In the past several years, researchers have performed studies that compare DNA samples within families. The goal has been to find common patterns that can pass down susceptibility to addiction. What they have found is that certain alleles and receptor genes are associated with addiction to specific substances. Therefore, depending on whether or not one’s genetic makeup includes that allele/receptor gene, that person could inherit a predisposition to certain substance addiction.
This is an important concept. Much of society has bought into the stigma that says addiction is the result of solely poor choices; this often leads to the in the idea that addiction should be punished so as to avoid future cases.
In reality, addiction is often the result of preexisting biological conditions. Extensive research has shown that the children of addicts are actually eight times more likely to develop the same addiction that their parents have. Scientists have further determined that genes for addiction are a product of the evolutionary instinct with which the human body is instilled. “When an animal eats a certain food that it likes, there is an advantage to associating pleasure with that food so that the animal will look for that food in the future.” This evolutionary mechanism works the same way but on a more intense level with highly addictive substances, which hardwire your brain to develop an addiction to that substance.
Although addiction will usually start with a choice to expose oneself to an addictive substance in the first place, this evidence does show us how there are often outside factors influencing addiction development.
For this reason, it is imperative that there is a shift in the way our society views addicts. To give off the impression that the situation is always the addict’s fault can have several detrimental effects on the progress of lowering addiction rates.
Firstly, to create a culture of guilt surrounding addiction is likely to discourage addicts from seeking the help and rehabilitation that they need. Further, particularly in the area of drug addiction, it fills our prisons unnecessarily and detracts from our national economy. “The War on Drugs” has required close to $1 trillion in taxpayer money as a result of increased incarceration rates.
The stigmatization of any type of addiction perpetuates a societal norm that is inherently false: that the addict should be held and punished as fully accountable for what can very quickly spiral out of his or her control. With a broadened understanding of how addiction works, the general public can hopefully hold a more educated and open-minded view of this issue and work towards more progressive and effective methods of solving it.