How The Nature vs Nurture Debate Plays Out For Drug or Alcohol Addiction

Last Updated: Sep 20th 2019

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky

Are you struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol and you’re looking at your life thinking, “how did I get here?” Maybe you’re just back from 1st Step Pompano Drug Rehab or Alcohol Rehab in Pompano and you’re asking this question in a kind of retrospective. You’re looking for answers so you can learn about your triggers and create a life set for successful and uninhibited sobriety. Or maybe you’re just finding the courage to admit to your family, perhaps even just to yourself that you have an alcohol or drug addiction, and you are desperate to understand how this happened, and how you can pull your life back from the clutching grip of your substance dependency.

 

Whether you’re looking back at a life before sobriety or looking forward to the difficult yet rewarding journey of getting health and living a sober life (one that starts with the courage to get help through a South Florida detox) the answers are comforting to have. Understanding the science of addiction can give an addict something more tangible to hold on to to than what society would have you believe is a problem with the addict in some inherent way. When it comes to why people develop a chemical dependency to drugs or alcohol, the debate of Nature Vs Nurture is very much alive. But it isn’t because science hasn’t spoken. In an Genes and Addictions, an article for American Society for Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, L. Bevilacqua and D. Goldman write that, “Both genetic and environmental variables contribute to the initiation of use of addictive agents and to the transition from use to addiction. Addictions are moderately to highly heritable. Family, adoption, and twin studies reveal that an individual’s risk tends to be proportional to the degree of genetic relationship to an addicted relative.” In other words, both nature and nurture decide a tendency for addiction to drugs or alcohol, and the closer in relation you are to the other members of your family who have struggled with chemical dependency, the more likely you are to not develop an addiction yourself, but your genes play a role in exactly how long it takes you to go from a casual user of addictive substances and a full fledge addict. So let’s look a bit closer at both the natural genetic reasons and environmental reasons someone may suffer from chemical addiction.

 

Nature

Have you ever heard someone say that addiction runs in their family? Well, as you read in the quote above from L. Bevilacqua and D. Goldman, it turns out that could literally be true. If you are struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol you may be surprised to hear that family genetics could have something to do with your personal tendency toward a chemical dependency on drug and alcohol.

 

Society likes to talk about addiction like it is a failing of the person suffering, so we often don’t talk about what predisposes an addict toward the disease, but it is worth knowing that some of your addiction is spurred by biological elements within your body. If you have members of your family who have likewise struggled with abuse, it might help explain some of why you are also there now. Genetics can play a role in many factors of an addict’s journey from how quickly someone becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, to if someone is more likely to relapse, as well as the severity of the symptoms that come along with detox, and the way their body copes with the sometimes devastating side effects of withdrawal.

 

The studies that L. Bevilacqua and D. Goldman write about showed that the more immediate the relation with an addiction, the more likely a person is to also be at risk of being afflicted with a chemical dependency. Your genes do play a part here but it would be remiss of us to not point out that differentiating between nature versus nurture as the bigger contributor of predisposal to substance addiction, when the family member is a mother or father (assuming that the drug or alcohol addict in question was raised by their biological parents) would be very difficult.

 

Untangling the social versus gene impact on a person’s proclivity toward substance abuse might be easier when you take into consideration that as you age your genetics and your environmental inputs shift and so does which one contributes most to your likelihood to develop an addiction.  If it is indeed true (and it follows that it would be) that a mother or father with an addiction will predispose you more than an aunt or uncle would, genetically, it’s a much more chicken and egg question than we may be happy with if we are looking for hard and fast answers for why chemical abuse affects one person and not another.

 

Nurture

L. Bevilacqua and D. Goldman go on in Genes and Addictions to explain that nature and nurture play off of each other to determine a person’s addiction tendency, “The Virginia Twin Study revealed that in early adolescence the initiation and use of nicotine, alcohol, and cannabis are more strongly determined by familial and social factors, but these gradually decline in importance during the progression to young and middle adulthood, when the effects of genetic factors become maximal, declining somewhat with aging” It may not surprise you to learn that as a person develops into adolescence the genetics of the their likelihood to try drugs or alcohol is more determined by a social factor.

We all know, even if only because of the public service announcements we were all subjected to as children, that peer pressure can be an overwhelming and almost unavoidable part of growing up. It’s hard for a lot of kids to push back against friends, and as a person reaches adolescence a sense of tribal community becomes almost a developmental imperative, or at least a vital right of passage. Therefore it becomes even more difficult for someone to “just say no” as an adolescent than it will be as the teenager grows into a young adult. A kid will  choose what seems like a bonding experience with a close friend over good judgement more often than not.

 

As kids become teenagers, social pressure, a natural curiosity, shifting hormones, and the fact that mental health disorders often pop up during puberty may all be reasons that a kid would try drugs or alcohol when they are in middle school or high school. However as they get older the social pressures become less of a factor than the genetics make up passed down from previous generations.

Another aspect of the “nurture” influence on predisposal to drug and alcohol dependency is how available an intoxicant is to someone. “The availability of addictive agents is determined by culture, social policy, religion, economic status, and narco-trafficking, and it changes across time and space.” Goldman and Bevilacqua tell us in their article.

 

Why is The Origin of a Person’s Addiction Important Anyway?

o why are we even talking about what makes a person likely to develop the tragic disease of chemical dependency addiction to drugs and alcohol? L. Bevilacqua and D. Goldman go on in Genes and Addictions to explain to us why these studies are important, “Genetic studies and other analyses clarifying the origins of addiction help destigmatize addiction, leading to more prompt treatment. Knowledge of genetic factors in etiology and treatment response may enable the individualization of prevention and treatment, as well as the identification of new therapeutic targets.”

The stigma surrounding drug and alcohol addiction in this society is an affliction all on it’s own. How can we expect to help people heal from this disease, and help to restore our culture’s health as a whole by reducing fatal overdose and drug addiction in general, all while verbally and emotionally abusing the whole people group afflicted with the disease? When shame and abuse are two of the main elements that feed addiction in a predisposed person, how can that person be judged for not seeking help, when our response to abuse is to deem that person as selfish, lazy, taking the easy way out, or even worse, criminal?  We are only reinforcing addiction’s foundation within the people who are predisposed and suffer from the disease of addiction. But the more we know, scientifically about the root of the disease, the more factual evidence we have to explain how someone becomes addicted to a substance, the more likely we will be able to fight this damaging social attitude and eventually create a culture of compassion surrounding this devastating and fatal scourge on society. But we have to start by accepting and publicly caring for the individuals that are already suffering.

 

What Kind of Treatments Are Available for Drug and Alcohol Dependency?

If you are suffering right now from undiagnosed or treated chemical dependency, there are treatment options for you. An addiction to drugs or alcohol can be a very scary and dangerous affliction. The first thing you need to do, and you should do it as soon as possible, is take a look at our South Florida detox program. You’ll want to detox with medically qualified professionals who can monitor your vital signs and overall wellbeing, to be sure you are safe while experiencing the sometimes intense side effects that come along with detox withdrawal. At 1st Step’s Pompano drug rehab, and our alcohol rehab in Pompano we offer all manner of treatment programs. If you call us at (866) 319-6126 we can help you walk through the programs we have and help you make a recovery plan that works individually for your needs.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky

Brittany PolanskyBrittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is a Primary Clinician at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.

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