Discovering the roots of addiction and how to treat it has been an area of intense research for centuries. Addiction has always been seen as a series of bad decisions that are punishable by law. The goal of the Addiction Research Center, run by the National Institute on Drug Abuse who first opened their doors in 1935 in Lexington Kentucky, was to not only treat those currently suffering from addiction but to also conduct research and study the forms and treatments of addiction. With the use of the hospital where they were located and its facilities, the ARC was able to study firsthand the physical and psychological effects of substance abuse. Despite their findings, it has only been in the last 30-40 years that the perception and understanding of addiction have begun to change.
Since that time much more research has been done to increase our knowledge of the risks and factors associated with addiction. Many in the medical field have reached the consensus that addiction is a disease in much the same way as diabetes or heart disease. Further research and testing has led to an increase in understanding of the role of genetics in addiction.
The University of Utah has been one of the leaders in addiction and genetics research and so far has yielded significant results. They have determined that while there is no one gene that contributes to addiction, there are in fact several that play important roles in the amount and response to the substances; though the results vary based on the type of substance and the individual. Because of their similar response to humans, mice and fruit flies are the primary subjects being used to test these results. Laboratory tests have shown that some genes such as the mutated Per2 caused the mice to drink 3 times as much alcohol as the other mice, while the mice with Cnr1 gene had almost no response to morphine. Non-invasive studies of humans have shown that there are common genes in those who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction, such as the DRD2 gene. With further research, doctors will be able to study the genes of addicts and give them medication based on missing or mutated genes.
One thing that researchers have continued to point out is that genetics is not the only factor in drug addiction. There are social and environmental factors that lead people toward addiction. Just because someone is more susceptible to addiction does not mean that addiction is unavoidable or inevitable. However, if more people were aware of their increased susceptibility to addiction, they could take more steps to avoid becoming addicted in the future.
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