Last week I wrote about regrets that John and I deal with – wishing that we had known about some type of long-lasting recovery option for our son, JL – and the SMART recovery approach and how it differs from traditional 12-Step programs such as AA. Continuing on with the concepts about individuals who struggle with life-threatening addictions of any variety, I have a few more thoughts.
With the genetic / disease model of addiction that scientific research has brought to the table, there are many in the recovery world who feel this mindset gives those living with addiction a green light to excuse their responsibility, their power of choice. But I disagree. It is clear that we had nothing to do with our family tree, our genetic inheritance (1). We were “powerless” as far as choosing to be born into our family. Yet, this doesn’t mean we are powerless to overcome the negative consequences inherent with those genes. It means we must be aware of what those potential conditions would be and extra cautious in our lifestyle and choices.
If a grandparent and / or parent have diabetes or cancer (like mine) or heart disease (like John’s), then we discuss it with our physicians, we get early and regular screening, we are careful about our diet and exercise. All this is within our power and makes us as “powerful” as we can be. It doesn’t mean that we will not develop those diseases – as we, and our siblings, have regardless of all possible preventions.
In research reported in the article cited below (1), here are some facts to ponder:
“Stages of Addiction: Research has shown that liability to addiction is a multi-stage process. The process of addiction begins with early stages of initiation of use, followed by escalation to regular and chronic use, which can become problematic and develop into addiction. Early stages are less heritable and more greatly influenced by familial environmental factors, whereas later stages, such as problem use and dependence are more strongly influenced by heritable factors.” This explains how many adolescents and young teens can experiment with a variety of drugs and why some leave them behind after the experimentation stage while others increasingly succumb to the power of addiction.
As to being powerless or powerful once an individual is in full-blown addiction, I would suggest that a person cannot find it within themselves to overcome the hold their addiction has on their body and brain. Even with SMART recovery, there is dependence on group support and usually Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT). Once again, prevention of early exposure must be the focus for parents, schools, and communities. Open, honest, and frequent communication is the place to start empowering yourself and your loved ones.
(1) Genetics of Addiction
Summary of article from above link:
Heritable influences on addiction: Numerous family, adoption and twin studies have identified the significant role of heritable influences on individual differences in addiction. Results from twin studies suggest that 33–71% of the variation in liability to nicotine dependence can be attributed to heritable influences, while 48–66% of the variation in alcohol dependence is heritable. Similarly, a recent meta-analysis of eight twin studies reported heritability estimates of 51–59% for cannabis addiction. Heritability estimates for cocaine use disorders range from 42 to 79%, with the lower estimates reported for females. Two large-scale studies have examined opioid addiction reported an estimate of 54% in male Vietnam Era twins. There have also been two major twin studies of disordered gambling, with consistent evidence for heritable (49%) variation. Across these studies, there has been no consistent evidence for differences in the magnitude or nature of heritable influences on addiction in men and women.
Developmental course: Due to the natural course of addiction, studying the role of developmental stage on addiction is challenging. Initiation of drug use typically occurs during adolescence, whereas disorders emerge during early adulthood. Even within these stages, there is considerable variation in etiology, depending on whether adolescents or adults are being studied. For instance, for a history of any alcohol use, heritability declines rapidly during emerging adulthood, likely due to the ubiquity of normative alcohol consumption. By contrast, for measures of quantity/frequency of use (for example, drinks/ day), and the number of substances used, heritable factors appear to have a stronger influence during adulthood. During adolescence, shared environmental factors contribute maximally to familial resemblance, but with the emergence of adulthood, genetic influences are unveiled and heritable variation explains up to 75% of individual differences. For problem use, however, there has been consistent evidence for heritable influences, even during adolescence.