Addiction has been controlling people’s lives and altering relationships between people for centuries. One question every person has had about addiction is where did it come from? Did it come from family genetics? Or is it the way you were brought up by the environment around you? Both of these play a huge factor in addiction, but addiction is truthfully a mess of nature and nurture tangled together.
Problems that are based on genetics might appear time after time, hitting the next generation with the same force. Research from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism suggests that enjoying the taste of alcohol is solely genetic. People who have a gene that makes the experience of alcohol unpleasant are less likely to develop an addiction. Some people have a gene variant that allows pleasure to move quickly from one part of the brain to another when alcohol is consumed (Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research). The people that have this gene are the people at the party whose personality changes completely. They’re more likely to enjoy the experience that alcohol gives them and become addicted. Genes can work together to create a real problem with addiction. For example, someone with the predisposition for enjoying alcohol could take a drink and enjoy the taste a lot. That same person could have a gene for high impulsivity and continue to drink although they know it’s not a good idea. That combination of genes creates a dangerous cycle that soon will lead to alcoholism.
Although genes are a huge part in impulsivity and level of enjoyment people experience while on a substance, it still isn’t the sole cause for addiction because your environment also determines whether you will try the substance for the first time.
Addiction starts as a habit and habits are formed from the environment around you. Your environment while growing up as child is a key factor in the habits you will pick up later in life. To give an example, parents may create the habit of having family dinners together every night. Family dinners are a great behavioral habit for a kid to pick up as they get older, but if that kid has parents who are frequently drinking at the dinner table in front of them, they are more likely to pick up that habit whether they have their parents genes or not. The kid who’s around alcohol more often is going to be more comfortable with trying it for the first time than the kid whose environment is rarely ever around alcohol.
The Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association have observed that women who are married drink more that women who are divorced. This may seem like an irrelevant fact, but it actually has to do with the different women’s environments playing a factor in whether they develop an addiction to alcohol or any other substance. Married women may feel more compelled to drink with their husbands and constantly keep liquor around the house. These women may not even enjoy the taste of alcohol originally, but when they are drinking as a habit with their husbands then they can develop an addiction.
The process of being in an environment that creates habits which soon become addictions is very common. To use alcoholism as an example, it starts with drinking becoming a frequent habit. You are doing subtle damage to your brain every time you drink, which causes you to drink more. When you drink more often it affects the cells in your brain to the point where you have a hard time controlling your own behavior, making addiction to alcohol extremely hard to fight off (National Academy of Sciences). This process that people get into isn’t based on genetics, it’s all based on what they did to their brain with that substance to create the addiction.
Rather than saying nature or nurture caused addiction, I would say it’s a fair assumption that addiction is a complicated give-and-take of both genetics and environment. The two build upon each other gradually making addiction possible for anyone.
Health System, University of Michigan. “Scientists Explore New Link Between Genetics and Alcoholism.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 Apr. 2011. Web. 07 Oct. 2015.
Alcoholism Nature vs. Nurture | Dual Diagnosis.” Dual Diagnosis. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Oct. 2015.
Hecht, Barbara K., Ph.D. “Gene for Alcoholism Is Discovered (GABA & GABRG3.” MedicineNet. Frederick Hecht M.D., 12 July 2014. Web. 07 Oct. 2015.