Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Addiction and Genetics

Following on from my article "Addiction - the disease concept", I would also like to state the case for addiction being a genetic predisposition, not just a problem caused by social environment. This is another concept that creates a fair amount of controversy.

Without getting into the scientific technobabble regarding this subject, let's consider a several groups of people... the Australian Aboriginal, the Native American and the New Zealand Maori -prior to the European invasion.

These three groups share many things in common. They all lived in harmony with their environment, they had strong social networks, they were proud people, they are all very creative and artistic.

It is often stated that it was the arrival of the European that decimated these peoples. It wasn't so much the arrival that caused the mass destruction, but what accompanied it. Guns, prejudice, disease......and alcohol. While the open slaughter of these peoples does not occur today as it did previously, and tolerance to introduced communicable disease has risen, alcohol is still the major factor in the steady loss of these cultures.

And it isn't just the direct effects of alcohol on the body. I remember speaking with an Aboriginal elder about the challenges faced by their youth in my area. I was told they don't listen to the elders any more because so many of them have alcohol problems. The ancient tradition of respect for the elders within this culture is crumbling.

Why is it that these groups tend to have greater problems with alcohol? It isn't anything to do with intelligence, nor ability to socialise or express .... they are masters of these things. The simple fact is that these groups, like myself, have little tolerance for specific substances; and it is an inherited trait, just the same as the colour of our skin and eyes.

In Europeans, I have noticed a pattern. If one or both parents had drug problems, it was much more likely that the children would as well. Okay, so we could state that environment is the main factor. But so many times I spoke with addicts whose parents did not abuse substances. But digging back a bit further, one or more of their grandparents did. Or perhaps, in the case of adopted persons, no-one in the entire foster family was a drug abuser -but they later discovered that their natural parent was.

I have found it surprisingly common for addiction to skip generations, especially in Europeans. But it seems that if two generations are "addict free", then the condition seems to disappear. I am sure there are exceptions to that rule, but this has been my experience.

When I was growing up my father warned me to be careful with alcohol. I didn't listen as I didn't understand the genetic factors. I also didn't care at the time.

So please, if you are a parent with a substance addiction (present or past), or your parents were people with drug problems - educate your children. Impress upon them that alcohol and drug usage for them is like playing Russian Roulette, and describe to them that while they may have Grandad's eyes, they may be also carrying a dangerous hidden legacy......

.....the genetic predisposition to a disease called addiction

Michael Bloch