Nature Vs Nurture in the World of Addiction

Nature vs nurture. Do we inherit most of our behaviors genetically, or are we taught them? It is an age-old question.

10% of adults in the United States report having a problematic relationship with drugs and alcohol. Whether it’s genetic or environmental factors, it’s hard to generalize the various factors that lead someone to substance and alcohol abuse. Though there may never be a truly definitive answer to this question, here we have unpacked some of the possibilities.

Is it a Gene Problem?

The question as to whether addiction can be put down to genetics is an easier one to ask than to answer. Genes help code us in a way that determines our physical features. They may also influence whether we are more likely to get certain illnesses – factors which are known as hereditary. So, if we are to understand the role of nature in addiction, we have to ask, “do hereditary factors cause addiction?”

Hereditary means a person is ‘at risk’ of developing a condition, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they will get it. Some studies show that genetic makeup may influence specific drug disorders, but it is a myth that genes actually cause addiction.

How do Families Shape us?

Families shape a lot of our development. They are the first influential people that we come into contact with, way before we are introduced to celebrities, musicians, politicians, and other influencers. Children who grow up in households with substance-dependent parents are more likely to develop a problematic relationship with drugs and alcohol. This is known as the transfer of risk. While this doesn’t mean their future is already written, having substance abuse issues in the family can be a contributing factor.

Just because someone has a history of alcoholism in their family, it does not necessarily mean they will inherit it. Likewise, having no history of alcoholism in one’s family means it is still possible to develop a dependency. Parenting style also impacts substance abuse in children and impacts other areas of life like confidence and self-esteem.

A Domino Effect

To understand substance abuse, we must go further than just looking at family histories. A person’s life is made up of a vibrant mixture of factors. These can be dialed down to these categories including:

  • Demographics (ethnicity, religion, and social class)
  • Lifestyle (income, friends, food choices, hobbies)
  • Environment (the people and places you grow up around)
  • Genetics

It is the combination of these factors, coupled with a little bit of chance and individual events, that contribute to one’s addiction risk.

We can visualize addiction as a line of dominos, where factors all come together to create a perfect chain of events. This is also where phrases like gateway drug and peer pressure come into play. Someone who has an addiction as an adult might have grown up with zero exposure to substances; however, when they mix with a specific peer group later in life where drugs and alcohol are used recreationally, they then develop a habit. 

Stress and Lifestyle

With the increasing stresses of modern life, more and more adults are suffering from mental health issues. Stress is a well-known cause for dependency on substances, as some people might use drugs or alcohol to escape from the pressures of everyday life. How one copes with stress is also a combination of nature vs nurture due to the relationship between genes and moods. Some people may produce more feel-good neurotransmitters than others, which changes how they cope with stress, yet stress itself is more of an environmental issue than a hereditary one. 

The debate of nature vs nurture is an interesting one that may be useful when treating addiction in the future. Yet, with the information we currently have, it is more important to look at the domino effect. It is a melting pot of factors that might lead someone to substance abuse, and addiction and recovery is a process that is specific to each individual and their unique circumstances.

 

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