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The Feel Good Gene. Why Are Some People Genetically More Prone to Addiction - Addiction Treatment

New research on the so-caled 'Feel Good Gene' suggests it could be a factor in proneness to addiction.

In The Lottery of Life Could A Gene Save You From Addiction? Study says "Feel Good Gene" holds clue to what what sends some of us to Rehab

In the casino of life, when it comes to addiction are some of us win bigger than others.

Recent neuroscience suggests that our genes my predispose some of us to being almost addiction proof. For the first time scientists have demonstrated that the way we produce a particular chemical in the brain may increase of decrease our odds of developing an addiction that could land us in a drug or alcohol rehab.

Anandamide, also known as the bliss chemical is key to regulating anxiety, seemingly because our ability to feel good naturally is a hedge against the many causes of addiction. The more you produce Anandamide, the less you are inclined to depend on the myriad substances that act on the body’s reward system. Feel good chemistry is not just about pleasure, but may be related to the ability to forget or let go of negative feelings as well.

Approximately 20 per cent of Americans have a generic mutation that makes it easier for them to produce anandamide and therefore possibly ward off dependance and addiction. According to the researchers this has nothing to with strength of character or self-discipline but simply genetics.

Some of the research on this was done with mice of course. Anxious mice apparently will hide in remote and less visible parts of mazes, while less anxious mice will promenade in the open.

When mice were bred with the more of the gene that leads to higher levels of anandamide, the feel good gene, they wandered and spent much more time in open parts of the maze.

The gene’s impact works in two ways according to the researchers.

On one level, it gives you easier access to pleasure. But perhaps more importantly it allows you to discharge fear more swiftly, in effect, reducing anxiety. The perception of intolerable anxiety is a frequent cause of addiction according to addiction research. And alcohol and drug rehabs are full of people with anxiety disorders. So the forgetting fear part may really count when it comes to addiction factors.

However, researchers are quick to point out that these studies are far from absolute.

Writing in the New York times in March of 2015, mental health and addictions specialist Richard A. Friedman states:

"None of these studies should be taken to mean that biology calls all the shots. Far from it. The environment plays a critical role and can sometimes even trump genetics," Friedman writes.

Friedman gives the examples of monkeys, who are generally at low risk of addiction, can be easily converted into compulsive drug users by either giving them large doses of cocaine or exposing them to stressful and overcrowded environments.

But not everyone feels good about the feel good gene theory of addiction. John Horgan, a blogger for Scientific American and author of The End of Science says the media gets quickly hooked on stories that suggest some part of human behaviour is connected to a particular gene.

He gives the examples of a series of articles in the 90s which falsely tied certain genes to alcoholism.

"1990 The New York Times published a front-page article…., announcing that scientists had discovered "a link between alcoholism and a specific gene," Horgan writes.

"That was merely one in a string of reports in which the Times and other major media hyped what turned out to be erroneous claims linking complex traits and disorders—from homosexuality and high intelligence to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder—to specific genes."

Horgan suggests that the particular nature of the bliss gene experiments, which involved showing subjects different pictures of snarling dogs or innocuous images, was not broad or universal enough to serve as a general proof.

"I predict that the feel-good gene will suffer the same fate as the "alcoholism gene," he writes.

Isolating a feel good chemical may however be an interesting step in understand both how anxiety and addiction work. And while we may not be any closer to finding a gene that connects directly to addiction. it does look like researchers are on a rewarding path. With so many people contending with addiction and drug rehabs and alcohol rehabs full of people with a variety of genetic background, we can hope we’re getting closer to cracking the mysteries that drive addiction.

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