Are genes involved in addiction?

The brain chemical dopamine seems to be associated with so-called 'pleasure-seeking behaviour'. Scientists have found variant genes in some alcoholics and heroin addicts that may affect the dopamine levels in their brains. These variants may predispose some people to addictive behaviour, but it does not mean that these people are destined to become alcoholics or heroin addicts – they still have control over what they do.

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Certain gene variants may predispose some people to addictive behaviour.

What influences addiction?

Genes are far from the whole story when attempting to explain addiction – circumstances are important, too. For example, a large number of US soldiers became addicted to heroin and cocaine during their service in Vietnam. However, on their return to normal home circumstances, their recovery rate was much higher than other groups of drug addicts, showing that environment and the ready availability of drugs influence addiction rates.

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US soldiers who became addicted to heroin and cocaine during their service in Vietnam had a high recovery rate on returning to normal home circumstances.

 

Principal Funder:

Wellcome trust

Major Sponsors:

GlaxoSmithKline life technologies