The Nature Versus Nurture Approach to Addiction

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This paper will discuss the equal roles both Nature and Nurture play in people who suffer from substance addiction. Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. For the purposes of this paper, the genetic qualities an individual is born with will be labeled Nature and the environmental and behavioral experiences they grow up with will be labeled Nurture. The research will illuminate the affect nature and nurture have on an individual’s susceptibility to this type of addiction. Thus, an adolescent who has a genetic pre-disposition to substance abuse is more likely to develop addiction; in addition, nurture, namely, environmental experiences and requisite parenting styles equally affect one’s propensity to substance abuse.

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As long as addiction has been an issue, humans have believed it to be genetic pre-disposition. Although only in recent years has science been begun to study this belief with true scientific investigation as opposed to “folk observation”. Genes and Addiction found specific genes that are suspected to be involved with addiction using animals. “The A1 allele of the dopamine receptor gene DRD2 is more common in people addicted to alcohol or cocaine. Mice lacking the serotonin receptor gene Htr1b are more attracted to cocaine and alcohol. Alcoholism is rare in people with two copies of the ALDH*2 gene variation”.

It is important to consider the different biological factors that increase the risk of addiction. Nestler, E. J. (2000) affirms 40 to 60 percent of a person’s susceptibility to becoming addicted come from genetics. People who struggle with mental health are at greater risk for becoming addicted. Genetic studies in addictions have shown to be difficult for scientists, the same difficulty faced with identifying genes in mental health issues. Addiction is an elaborate behavioral issue; many factors contribute to its struggles. But a large chromosomal region has been found to play a role in alcoholism. A population of East Asian carry an enzyme variation that metabolize alcohol differently, leading to an increased sensitivity. Scientist are working hard to identify these types of genes. Every gene found with an increased influence on addiction is a potential area of study and target for potential treatment of the disease of addiction.

Addiction is a major issue in the United States. Alcoholism is a medical condition in which someone frequently drinks too much alcohol and becomes unable to live a normal and healthy life “Alcoholism”. In 2014, 16.3 million adults ages 18 and older were reported as having an Alcohol Use Disorder (“Alcohol Facts and Statistics 2014”). Moreover, 21.3 million people needed treatment for Alcoholism, while only 2.6 million people received it. Substance abuse is found to have 2 major causes: Genetics and Environmental factors contribute to the development of addiction. Research has proven that Environmental factors contribute greatly to the development of a substance abuse problem. First consider why a person might start the use of drugs. Reasons for use can vary greatly, and can include, but are not limited, to the euphoria, to overcome social/environmental insecurities, to enhance performance, and personal curiosity. People can become addicted to drugs for these individual reasons or for all of them. Drug addiction does not discriminate against age, race, sexual identity, creed, religion, social or economic class.

Nurture’s role in the growth into addiction is important. (“Drug Abuse and Addiction”) states that Home/Family and Peer/School are two factors that greatly increase the risk of addiction. A child’s early interactions with family members who use drugs or participate in criminal activity can increase a child’s risk of drug addiction. During adolescence, interacting with peers who are using drugs greatly increases the likelihood of an individual starting to use drugs. “Environmental Risk Factors” declares, the earlier a person starts using drugs, the more likely that individual is to develop serious problems. A person’s connection to their community, peers, family and school are important in development of addictions. Statistics show an increase in addiction where drug use, firearms and crime, within a community, is considered acceptable. The attitude of peers and friends towards drug use has the biggest influence on initial drug interaction. A child is more likely to participate in drug use if they have friends that are actively participating in drug abuse. If a parent uses drugs there is a likelihood that the child too will use drugs. Family strife, office politics and supervision issues within the household or office are contributing factors. The pressure added to a child to participate and excel in school or an adult to win favor at work can contribute to the start of drugs. (‘Environmental Risk Factors”)

Raising children, parental nurture and family interaction offers a great deal of influence into the cause and effect in addiction. Perhaps the most significant factor in development of addiction is parenting styles. Parenting styles include Authoritative, Permissive and Authoritarian (Despotic). Each style can positively or negatively affect a child’s personality development, when looking at specific markers such as self-confidence, independence and coping skills to state a few. Despotic parents set rules that expect to be followed 100% of the time. They develop a somewhat tyrannical rule over their child. This leads to lower self-esteem and the child exhibiting aggressive behavior. Authoritative parents establish clear rules but allow some deviation. They promote healthy communication with children and are willing to enter into discussion about the rules. They take into effect the feelings of the child. Parents create an environment of logic and understanding that leave the children feeling apart of the decision making. Permissive parents set unclear and inconsistent rules and standards. These parents tend to step in only when serious problems occur, taking on a friend role rather than a parental role in their child’s upbringing. This often leads to children having poor social skills and less self-discipline. An article in Journal Of Paramedical Sciences on Parenting styles and addiction concluded that:

Ahmadi et al’s (2014) Authoritative parents, begin to interact with child and respond in such away and a degree that child is usually satisfied. Authoritative parents respond to children efforts to gain the support and attention and use more positive reinforcements. So, the children of authoritative parents in the scales such as being active, self-belief and independence account for higher ranking. These children realistic, competent and pleasing are described [8, 9], have self-reliance and friendly relationship with peers, and coping with stress very well, are lively and energetic and less susceptible to risky behavior [13, 15]. In contrast, in poor parenting styles such as despotic style and permissive, these conditions are not favorable, and person predisposes tendency toward risky behavior. From other present study results, can be stated that generally, the combination weight of the three parenting styles, explain the variance percent of addiction potentiality that shows parenting styles (authoritative, permissive and despotic) play an essential role in students’ addiction potentiality and have its subsequent outcomes such as psychological problems.

Research shows that addiction is an extremely complex disease. One direct cause cannot be identified, instead it comes from multiple environmental and genetic influences. While it has been stated that 40 to 60 percent of a person’s pre-disposition to addiction comes from genetics that is not a pre-determined factor for the development of addiction. Nor is a purely environmental influence the cause of a person’s addiction. A person with healthy Authoritative parents, no negative community/peer influences and zero to no family history of addiction can become addicted to drugs. The same way a child of Authoritarian parents who use drugs, who grew up in a community that glorifies drug and criminal activities, and has peers who use drugs can rise above these factors to never use drugs. It seems to be the interplay between our genes and our behavioral interactions that create our unique self. The research, while fascinating, is inconclusive to an individual direct cause.

Nature and nurture co-exist within the development of addictive behaviors, there is no definitive research to prove this theory. Nature and nurture are only factors that can contribute to a person’s possible pre-disposition to drug addiction, they are not definitive determiners. Early education is the only way to combat and manage the genetic and environmental influences that lead to addiction. However, it was fascinating journey in my ever-present exploration into my own battle with addiction.

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