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Nature or Nurture?

woman discusses marijuana concentrates with doctor

It’s the age-old question when it comes to human behavior: nature or nurture? Is addiction written in people’s genes, or do they develop addictions because of their life experiences? Today, “experts recognize that every human being is the product of both DNA and environment, which interact in endlessly complex ways to produce any number of outcomes,” says Markham Heid for TIME Magazine. As such, we must acknowledge that addictions are a product of both DNA and the environment. 

“‘Pathways’ to addiction”

The human genome is a person’s “complete genetic blueprint.” It contains up to 25,000 genes, many of which are identical. In fact, only 1% of someone’s genome is the variation that determines a person’s distinctive traits. In that 1% is the “nature” part of the argument: the DNA that impacts addiction. Danielle Dick, an addiction researcher and a professor in the departments of psychology and human and molecular genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University, says that genes affect enzymes that “play a role in the way the human body metabolizes ethanol, which is pure alcohol.” This can impact the way the body breaks down alcohol to a toxic substance which can make people feel sick when they drink. “If you feel sick when you drink, you tend to not develop a problem,” says Dick. “And so individuals who carry one of these genetic variants are at a lower risk than the average person for an alcohol-use disorder.” Dick stresses, however, that a single gene does not predict whether a person will develop a substance use disorder. There are two pathways, however, that impact how the brain processes risk, reward, and emotions that can contribute to addictions. 

The externalizing pathway

The externalizing pathway is used to describe individuals who seek out things that are impulsive or risky. “These are people who were born with brains wired for sensation-seeking and reward-seeking, and they don’t stop to think about their actions or the consequences of their actions as much as others,” says Dick. Because of this, they are more likely to end up in hazardous environments that lead them to try addictive substances. 

The internalizing pathway 

The internalizing pathway is used to describe individuals who keep their feelings inside. “This one has to do with the way our brains are wired to cope with fear and negative emotion.” People who internalize tend to have depression and anxiety, which can lead them to substance abuse as a way to cope with their feelings. 

These pathways exist in everyone. It’s where you fall along the pathways that make you who you are. Arbor Behavioral Healthcare is here to help you wherever you fall along the two pathways. Call us today at 844-413-2690 for more information about how we can help you. We can’t wait to speak with you!