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Biology of Drug Addiction


BUT WHEN WE LOOK MORE CLOSELY
AT THE BEHAVIORAL PHARMACOLOGY OR THE BIOLOGY OF
ADDICTION, WE SEE THAT THERE’S A BIOLOGICAL
ABNORMALITY TO IT. NARRATOR: EXPERTS HAVE
LEARNED THAT ADDICTION TO DRUGS OR ALCOHOL IS A
DISEASE THAT HAS GENETIC AS WELL AS ENVIRONMENTAL TRIGGERS. WE FOUND THAT A GENE INVOLVED
IN DOPAMINE METABOLISM IS IMPORTANT. DOPAMINE IS THE BRAIN’S
PLEASURE CHEMICAL. IT’S WHAT MAKES YOU
FEEL GOOD IF YOU HAVE A PLEASURABLE EXPERIENCE. AND FOR HIGH NOVELTY SEEKERS,
DOING SOMETHING NEW– LIKE BUNGEE JUMPING OR
HAVING A NEW DRUG OR EVEN A NEW SEXUAL PARTNER–
RELEASES DOPAMINE AND MAKES PEOPLE FEEL GOOD. WHAT THIS GENE
DOES IS IT CONTROLS HOW THE BRAIN
RESPONDS TO DOPAMINE. SO PEOPLE WITH ONE
VERSION OF THE GENE DON’T GET MUCH OF A THRILL
FROM DOING SOMETHING NEW. THEY TEND TO BE LOW
NOVELTY SEEKERS. PEOPLE WITH A VERY SLIGHTLY
DIFFERENT VERSION OF THE GENE RESPOND MUCH MORE
POSITIVELY TO DOPAMINE, AND THEY’RE THE PEOPLE WHO
ARE LIKELY TO BE JUMPING OUT OF AN AIRPLANE OR
TRYING A NEW DRUG. THERE CLEARLY ARE GENETIC RISKS. PEOPLE DO DIFFER AS A
FUNCTION OF SOMETHING THAT’S BEING TRANSMITTED
GENETICALLY FROM FAMILY TO FAMILY. WHEN YOU LOOK AT CERTAIN
FAMILY COMPLEXES, YOU CAN SEE THESE
MULTI-GENERATIONAL, MULTI-AFFECTED FAMILIES
WHERE THE RISK IS JUST SO HIGH FOR THE PEOPLE
BECOMING ALCOHOL OR DRUG USERS OR ABUSERS. CERTAINLY WE KNOW THAT
IN THE ALCOHOLISM AREA, CHILDREN OF ALCOHOLICS ARE
AT ABOUT A THREEFOLD RISK OF BECOMING
ALCOHOLICS THEMSELVES, COMPARED TO CHILDREN
OF NON-ALCOHOLICS. AND APPROPRIATE
CONTROL STUDIES HAVE BEEN DONE WITH
ADOPTEES AND WITH TWINS TO INDICATE THAT
THIS IS A GENETICALLY DETERMINED VULNERABILITY. THERE HAD BEEN VERY
ELEGANT STUDIES SHOWING THAT, FOR
EXAMPLE, IF ONE OF THE PAIR OF IDENTICAL
TWINS IS A CIGARETTE SMOKER, THE CO-TWIN IS MORE LIKELY
TO BE A HEAVY DRINKER. AND THAT SUGGESTED THAT
IT’S THE SAME GENES THAT ARE INVOLVED IN SMOKING AND
ALCOHOL DRINKING JUST BEING EXPRESSED DIFFERENTLY
IN DIFFERENT PEOPLE. SO THIS CO-OCCURRENCE
MAY REPRESENT A GENERAL VULNERABILITY
FACTOR THAT MAY BE REFLECTED IN PERSONALITY
CHARACTERISTICS THAT ARE GENETICALLY DETERMINED. PEOPLE WITH FAMILY
HISTORIES, PEOPLE WITH CO-MORBID PSYCHIATRIC
DISORDERS, ARE AT HIGHER RISK. PSYCHOLOGICAL DISTRESS, ANOTHER
EMOTIONAL ILLNESS, DEPRESSION, ANXIETY, ARE HIGHLY
ASSOCIATED WITH DRUG USE. I’VE NEVER MET ANYBODY
WHO WAS ABUSING ANYTHING THAT DOESN’T HAVE SOME SMALL
UNDERLYING MENTAL HEALTH ISSUE. BECAUSE BEFORE YOU PICKED
UP THE FIRST DRINK, YOU PROBABLY DIDN’T FEEL
GOOD ABOUT YOURSELF. BEFORE YOU TOOT IT OR EVEN
SMOKE THE FIRST CIGARETTE. LOW SELF-ESTEEMS TAKE YOU LOW. YOU DON’T FEEL GOOD
ABOUT YOURSELF. YOU FEEL DIFFERENT. AND THAT’S ONE OF
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF MOST ADDICTS.

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