Mental Health

The Brain and Genetics in Addictive Behavior

Addiction is, unfortunately, a very common problem throughout the world. In the U.K alone, there are hundreds of thousands of individuals suffering from addiction. It can ruin our bodies, our minds, our relationships and essentially our lives. Addiction can be incredibly hard to deal with and can test the minds of even the strongest individual. Resources like counseling or using a drug addiction hotline are becoming increasingly popular for those suffering, now that having an addiction is appreciated as an illness and not a choice. This is especially true with a person with addictive behavior.

But what leads to addictions to things like drugs, alcohol and gambling and how are they formed? While life situations and unfortunate scenarios can contribute, our brain and our genetics can have a role in the development o addictive behaviors. With that in mind, this article is going to look at the role of both our brain and genetics within addiction.


What is Addiction?

To begin, before looking at the role of the brain and genes in addictive behavior, it is important that we go over what addiction actually is. Addiction is a disease that changes and alters our motivation and rewards systems. There is a three-stage cycle that essentially outlines the behavior of someone who becomes addicted.

It begins with someone using a substance or exhibiting behavior to an excessive amount. It may provide a good feeling or pleasure, but that is short-lived. The individual (or a group) continues to “chase the feeling” he/she assumes is happiness or peace. By repeating the behaviors, it quickly becomes the routine. The reality becomes re-shaped by feelings experienced from particular substances or behavior, and one’s forget about how real-life looks like soon. The next step of the cycle is going through withdrawal and feelings of sadness, sickness, anger or pain. Those moments are experienced when an addicted person is not under the influence of its addiction. From here, an addicted person will begin to think solely of their vice, and will do whatever they can to get it once again and thus, restarting the cycle.

While many think of only alcohol and drugs when they hear the word addiction, those are far from the only things people can be addicted to. Some are addicted to gambling, to stealing, and a wide range of other things. Getting help for addiction is possible, but not always easy. While some addiction-related costs may be covered by your health insurance, this isn’t always the case. It is best to speak to your provider and treatment center to see what health insurance plans cover and what your options are.

The Brain’s Role in Addiction

Now that you are aware of what addiction actually is, what is the brain’s role in addiction? As you could imagine, the brain plays a huge role in addiction. Addiction is, at its core, a brain disease. This is because it changes the reward system of the brain. It affects the brain in a variety of ways from the insatiable craving for your vice to a loss of control.

Nobody starts out wanting to be addicted, but at some point, it goes from liking something to needing it. This is due to actual changes in the brain both in terms of functionality and structure. Your brain is essentially hijacked, and it is hard to escape from the grasps of addiction. This is very different from past views of addiction, which believed people simply had no willpower or that somebody was an immoral person. While willpower is certainly a part of recovering from addiction, it is far from the only part.

Photo by Ivandrei Pretorius from Pexels

Is Addiction Hereditary?

Recently, there has been talk about whether addiction is hereditary and there have been studies on how genes can impact both drug use and addiction. It seems as if there are specific differences in genes that can potentially lead to someone being more susceptible to developing an addiction. Genes also shape our temperament and who we are as people, and this can impact our chances of becoming addicted.

For example, people who are inherently risky or are impulsive, both of which are impacted by our genes. They are more likely to become addicted to something throughout their lives. All of this, plus studies like the one linked above, help show us that there is some relation between genes and addiction.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you will come out of the womb destined to be addicted to something. But just that you may have a slightly higher (or slightly lower) chance of developing an addiction. Some people are more vulnerable to addiction, and it can be through their genes or through their lifestyle. All in all, addiction has to do with both nature and nurture. Not one or the other is directly responsible for the addictive behavior of an individual.


Final thoughts

Hopefully, this blog post has been able to help you learn a little more about the role of the brain and genetics in addictive behavior. It is a difficult and touchy subject. But the more we know and learn about addiction, the better we can help people recover from it.


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