Why Do Some Get Addicted While Others Don’t?Q & A

Generally, the more a person uses drugs, the more he risks precipitating the changes in the brain’s Reward System that result in addiction. Addictive drugs produce a high that results from dopamine spikes in the Reward Center at much higher concentrations than normal rewards. Over time, drug abuse causes the dopamine system to react defensively to all that excess dopamine by building up tolerance, which requires more drugs to achieve the desired high. This defensive process can ultimately trigger genetic change that renders addiction irreversible.

An individual’s risk of addiction, however, varies depending on one’s genetic makeup and environment.

Neuroscientists say there’s a spectrum of genetic risk from very high to very low. Those who come from families with a multi-generational history of addiction, for example, have a significantly higher risk. At the other end of the spectrum, some have genetic make ups that may protect against addiction, making the risk very small. (For more click on Genetic Components of Addiction).

Environment also plays a role. For example, studies show that teens who start using drugs before the age of 14 are at much higher risk of addiction than those who wait until their late teens or twenties. Thus, children who grow up in an environment where drugs or alcohol are readily available are more likely to develop addiction later in life than those who don’t. (For more click on Environmental Factors and Addiction.)

Studies also show that effective social support — a good emotional environment –can lessen the likelihood of addiction even for those who are at high risk genetically.

The reason some people get addicted and other don’t is that some are at much greater risk than others because of their in-born genetic predispositions and/or their environmental backgrounds. There are those who may have such a high risk that they’re “born addicts,” that is, they exhibit the characteristics of addiction from their first use of drugs or alcohol. Others may have genetic predispositions that make drugs and alcohol more rewarding emotionally than is typical. They obtain profound emotional benefits from drugs so they continue to use them and develop addiction from long-term abuse. Still others may have a protective genetic constitution or a particularly supportive environment, making addiction unlikely even if they use drugs for an extended period of time.

Currently, there aren’t any cheap and easy ways to objectively assess any individual’s risk. Scientists are working to develop ways to characterize it, but they have a long way to go. However, there have long been questionaires that are used as gauges of addiction (For one example, click on the 20-Question Self-Diagnostic Test).

For more click on Identical Drugs Can Work Differently Depending on Genetic Makeup.

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3 Responses to “ Why Do Some Get Addicted While Others Don’t? ”

  1. […] Age of first use can also play a role. Teens who start using drugs before the age of 14 are at much higher risk of addiction than those who wait until their late teens or twenties. […]

  2. This video points out the importance of environment in addiction. Poor environments trigger genetic predisposition into full-blown addiction, while good environments mitigate the predisposition.

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