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Why Do People Become Addicted to Drugs?

Why Do People Become Addicted to Drugs?

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Justin Mckibben

This is arguably one of the most difficult questions to answer regarding drug addiction without being met with contention and passionate opposition. The troubling part is, despite the fact that the medical community, including the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has taken a strong stance on classifying addiction as a disease, others still argue that it is a condition that only exists out of lack of personal responsibility or moral willpower. Stigma against addicts was the driving force behind the way the world understood addiction for so long that now it is an uphill battle at times trying to detach from those old ideas.

Beyond the assumptions most people adopt as fact, science and psychology have taught us that addiction is far more complex and misunderstood than most can imagine.

Still, the great question is the “why” of it all, which is a far more debatable way to ask the question than the “how” of it. Even more debate could surround the perceived motivations, and more controversy comes from the “addiction is a choice” conversation. At first, let us look at what the research tells us.

Why Do People Become Addicted to Drugs: The Brain

Now first, let us look at how addiction is defined according to medical science, offering the evidence from the ASAM.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) gave the most recent definition of addiction as a chronic brain disorder after a four-year process involving more than 80 experts. The ASAM definition notes that two decades of advancements in neuroscience convinced ASAM officials that addiction should be

defined by the activity present in the brain.

For instance, research has shown that addiction affects the brain’s reward circuitry to the point that memories of previous experiences with food, alcohol and other drugs or even sex can activate cravings and induce more addictive behaviors. Also, the brain circuitry that governs impulse control and judgment is altered in the brains of addicts.

Dr. Raju Hajela, former president of the Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine and chair of the ASAM committee on addiction’s new definition states:

“The disease creates distortions in thinking, feelings and perceptions, which drive people to behave in ways that are not understandable to others around them,”

“Simply put, addiction is not a choice. Addictive behaviors are a manifestation of the disease, not a cause.”

Dr. Hajela did, however, add that the idea of choice is not completely off the table, but that it is not about choosing addiction, but choosing recovery.

To be fair, there are also neuro-scientists like Marc Lewis, a psychologist and former addict himself; author of a new book “The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease” who believe that the brain is definitively reshaped by addiction, but do not think it should be classified as a ‘disease’. These scientists recommend cognitive behavioral therapy as a way to reshape the brain and redirect its systems into less self-destructive patterns. While they do disagree with the specifics of the ‘disease’ term, they stand by the neuroscience of addiction.

Why Do People Become Addicted to Drugs: Chronic Medical Condition

Further exploring the definition of addiction as presented by the medical and scientific communities, we find that the American College of Physicians (ACP) calls addiction a “substance use disorder” and states that addictions to drugs should be considered a serious public health issue. The ACP states that substance use disorder is a chronic medical condition.

Several agencies have supported this definition of addiction, including:

  • The American Medical Association
  • The American Psychiatric Association
  • The Institute of Medicine
  • The World Health Organization

And if we are going to get really technical, the basic definition of “disease” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is:

-a condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms

Examining this logic, it is clear that addiction meets all the criteria to be considered a disease. In fact, most definitions of disease are pretty spot-on with the nature of substance use disorder.

Why Do People Become Addicted to Drugs: The Formula

Now that we have explored how addiction can qualify as a disease, let us look into the “why” of it. Some insist there is an ‘addiction gene’ that dooms people to addiction. Others say the reason people become addicted is because of their circumstances in life.

One might say there is a kind of ‘formula’ for addiction, but it would be one like X+Y=Addiction.

X= Genetics

Research has pointed toward biological differences that make people more or less susceptible to addiction. Certain genes, or combinations of genes, may result in someone’s brain and body developing dependence much faster than others with the same consumption.

So when someone says they drank the same as someone else, or did the same amount of drugs for the same amount of time, we need to understand that it doesn’t mean they will have the same reaction to those drugs. One of the main arguments people use to oppose the idea of addiction being a disease is comparing an addict to other people who drink and use drugs without being addicts… but science has shown us that is not how it works.

Then there is epigenetics, the study of functional, and sometimes inherited, changes in the regulation of gene activity that are not dependent on gene sequencing. In short, it means to examine how environmental exposures or choices people make can actually remodel (mark) the structure of DNA at the cell level or even at the level of the whole organism.

Y= Environment/Actions

Here is where we openly admit to the actions (i.e. choices) of individuals to influence the development of addiction. Someone’s environment and the way they react to it does contribute to developing an addiction. In general, research has shown that an individual’s health is the result of interactions between their genes and their environment. Of course the likelihood of addiction can be increased by factors like:

Studies from the Nation Institute on Drug Addiction (NIDA) support that an individual’s surroundings also have a particular impact on drug use. According to the NIDA,

“Exposure to drugs or stress in a person’s social or cultural environment can alter both gene expression and gene function, which, in some cases, may persist throughout a person’s life. Research also suggests that genes can play a part in how a person responds to his or her environment, placing some people at higher risk for disease than others.”

When someone starts addressing external issues with drugs or alcohol, it magnifies the problem. Those who are exposed to a different life-style will also have a different risk of developing a substance use disorder. This impacts those epigenetics we were talking about.

In the end, we can say that people use drugs and alcohol as a solution. It is the resource they turned to for escape, for excitement or for a feeling of ease and contentment. It was a powerful element they were able to reach to, that ultimately rewired their brain and changed their DNA.

Why Do People Become Addicted to Drugs?

Some people will say that the Y of X+Y=Addiction model proves that addiction is a choice, not a disease. Well, to argue that choices can still create diseases, we can point out that in 2014 it was noted for the first time in history, “lifestyle diseases” killed more people than communicable diseases. Health care providers and public health officials have recognized for a very long time that unhealthy lifestyle behaviors are the root cause of several diseases, including:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Stroke
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Some forms of cancer

Choices influence these conditions, which the medical community categorized as modifiable risk factors, including:

  • Poor dietary habits
  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol overuse

People would argue still that someone who uses hard drugs knows the high risk and chooses. Well, don’t people who eat foods with low nutritional value and over-indulge in smoking while never exercising know the risks?

Recovery Works

Why do people become addicted to drugs? There are so many factors unique to the individual with that formula. Genetics, environment, actions, along with physical and mental health all play a part in how a substance use disorder develops, just like numerous other conditions. That is precisely why it is so important we start to recognize addiction as a disease; as a chronic medical condition and one that people should not be shamed and stigmatized for. All these elements of substance use disorder literally rewire the brain and rewrite the DNA.

Though this may seem like a lot of information, it covers barely a fraction of the research on this subject. There is no easy “why” to it, but there is enough to know why recovery is so important. Real recovery is not just removing the drugs, but also working to create new coping skills. Recovery takes work, and a great foundation can make all the difference.

Understanding addiction is one thing. But learning how to make the life in recovery that you deserve takes a strong beginning. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now.

   CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135

Are Eating Disorders Genetic?

Are Eating Disorders Genetic?

Author: Justin Mckibben

In the United States of America an estimated 24 million people, including individuals from all genders and age groups are currently suffering from various eating disorders, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. So with this information 5-10% of the general population is affected by commonly known eating disorders on a regular basis, while all the biological elements of the behavior are not yet known. 15-20% if you take into account less defined and unusual forms of eating disorders.

While the psychological and genetic causes of these conditions have been well documented, scientists have struggled to find a biological link to the disorders beyond the increased or decreased regulation of food intake. However, a new study has discovered new evidence in regards to the development of eating disorders.

Power of the Protein ClpB

The research conducted by academics at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research has apparently discovered that a protein produced by intestinal bacteria may be a root cause of these disorders. This means to help with the way we understand the development of eating disorders including anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge eating disorder.

The protein ClpB imitates a satiety hormone that naturally helps the body to know when it is feeling hungry or full and regulate eating habits. When ClpB is present, the body produces antibodies that then bind to the satiety hormone and create a false sensation of either hunger or fullness. So essentially this protein is tricking the body into believing that it either does not need to eat, or that the body craves nutrients and the mind picks up on this and acts accordingly.

Specifics of the Study

Initially these studies were being conducted on the intestinal flora of mice to study their biological response.

  • One test group received E.coli bacteria that produced ClpB, and showed varying levels of antibodies and food intake.
  • The second group of mice, which received a mutant strain of E.coli that did not produce the protein, displayed no changes in eating habits or antibodies.

Given the nature of the study, this reaction further supports the concept of the correlation between the protein and the eating habits of the test subjects.

60 human test subjects were also studied, and the data collected from this experiment was then analyzed with a questionnaire. The questions on this survey evaluated the severity of their condition, while biological tests confirmed a higher level of antibodies to Clpb and the satiety hormones in their systems. The information combined gives the impression to endorse the involvement of the protein ClpB in the dysfunctional regulation of the test subject’s appetites, which begs to question whether or not these genetic variables can be traced back to eating disorders which are typically credited to primarily being a behavioral disorder and not an actual biological concern.

Study authors Pierre Déchelotte and Sergueï Fetissov stated that the next steps would be to develop a blood test based on the detection of ClpB. One way or the other, the ultimate objective for the research team would be to find a way to neutralize the protein in order to halt its effect on the satiety hormone, without causing harm to the hormone itself. The authors noted,

“If we are successful at this, we will be able to establish specific and individualized treatment for eating disorders.”

The Idea of Inherent Anorexia

Some experts believe that the biological basis of anorexia has been under-emphasised, and the social causes over-stressed. These same scientists claim that some individuals are actually born with a biological predisposition to anorexia. This predisposition may then run in families, as twin studies have already suggested.

To further investigated the possibility of the genetic link to this specific eating disorder, British and American researchers have joined forces with other researchers around the world to launch the largest-ever study of the genes underlying anorexia.

This study is intended to collect 25,000 DNA samples from people who suffer from anorexia, including 1,000 from Britain, and compare them with an unaffected control group of 25,000 people. A similar study conducted some time ago suggested that a cholesterol gene could play a role in anorexia, providing a potential new target for drug treatment, but that study finding could not be replicated, meaning that the finding was never confirmed.

While that last failed attempt put scientists back at square one, the researchers now have great optimism that by pinpointing the genes responsible for this kind of eating disorder, and identifying the function of those genes, the research will give the data needed to make new assessments, eliminate the stigma and the misconceptions, and create opportunities for new and more effective treatments.

Millions of people around the world every day suffer from eating disorders, and there has been a lot of emphasis put on certain methods of treatment, but there are always new and innovative discoveries being made to help better understand and treat these illnesses, and to save more lives. If you or someone you love has an eating disorder and is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

In The News: Smoking Cigarettes Leaves Imprint on Your DNA

Smoking Cigarettes Leaves Imprint on Your DNA

Smoking cigarettes is not good for your health. Smoking cigarettes causes 90% of all lung cancer related deaths in men and 80% of lung cancer related deaths in women. Aside from lung cancer, by smoking cigarettes you also put yourself at risk of developing acute myeloid leukemia, bladder cancer, cancer of the cervix, cancer of the esophagus, kidney cancer, cancer of the larynx, cancer of the mouth, pancreatic cancer, cancer of the throat, stomach cancer and other serious diseases.

Cigarettes can cause mutation of DNA that then forms into certain types of cancer. New research is now showing that smokers have an “imprint” of sorts on their DNA. These “imprints” that researchers are referring to as codes are found in the DNA of blood. The codes have not been found to alter the sequence of DNA coding. What’s interesting is that once a smoker stops smoking, those imprints begin to disappear. However, they don’t vanish completely and do not match the unmarked DNA of a non-smoker.

In this initial study, measuring DNA tagging in blood samples from smokers and non-smokers allowed the researchers to investigate the link between smoking and these tags.

While smoking is associated with bowel cancer risk, a link between smoking and breast cancer has not been proven but the researchers believe that previous studies haven’t had the same genetic or epigenetic measures of smoke exposure available. This research will make that information available to scientists so they can spot any DNA tags that might be attributable to any risk that might exist.

Researchers are hopeful that this will be the beginning of future blood testing that will show a persons’ exact risk to certain cancers.

If you or a loved one is in need of drug, alcohol or marijuana addiction treatment please give us a call at 800-951-6135.

Sources:

http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-info/news/archive/pressrelease/2012-11-6-smokers-leave-history-of-addiction-in-DNA

http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/effects_cig_smoking/

 

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