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Is Addiction a Choice?

Is addiction a choice? This is a question that reverberates through the minds of everyday people. And “yes” is not an uncommon response. Whether conscious or subconscious, many people harbor the belief that those suffering from drug or alcohol addiction made a deliberate choice or series of choices that led them on the path to addiction. Although choice does play a certain role in drug and alcohol use, there is extensive evidence to show that addiction is largely not a choice, but a predetermined result of genetic inheritance and learned behavior.

How do we Measure Choice?

It is difficult to quantify how much of addiction is guided by choice and how much of it is dictated by circumstances beyond the addict’s control. For instance, there could be some addicts that, on a scale of 1-10, have a 10 in willpower and a 1 in addictive genes, pointing to poor self-control. On the flip side, there could be an individual with a strong genetic disposition to alcoholism and weak willpower, suggesting that genes are largely to blame.

These variables make it tricky to judge who has “chosen” addiction and who has been dealt an unlucky hand. They point to the non-12 step idea that every individual is different, and their addiction should be judged on a case-by-case basis as a result.

What do Doctors and Researchers Say?

While it is difficult to pinpoint the level of choice involved in addiction, there is a consensus among doctors and researchers that genetics are the most driving factor in determining addiction. “Over 50% of the likelihood that a person is going to end up with addiction has to do with their genetic history,” said Seppala, Chief Medical Officer at the Hazelden Foundation.

Seppala argues that people suffer from addiction largely because they cannot escape their genes. He goes on to point out that genetics not only determine who is an alcoholic, but also who refrains from using alcohol. He explains there are also “protective genes” prevalent in Chinese, Japanese and Korean people who become “flushed” when they drink. “And that actually will prevent alcohol use, because they don’t like how it feels,” Seppala explained.

There was also a renowned study that examined genes among 861 identical twin pairs and 653 fraternal (non-identical) twin pairs. The study found that when one identical twin was addicted to alcohol, the other twin had a high probability of suffering from the same condition. However, when one non-identical twin was addicted to alcohol, there was no clear correlation to suggest that the other twin would be similarly addicted. The results of the study point to the larger idea that genes are strongly influential in determining the risk of addiction among human beings. While there is no black and white answer to whether addiction is or isn’t a choice, studies like these can help us understand the prevalent role that genes play in addiction.

If you have a close family member who suffers from addiction or feel that you might suffer from addiction yourself, contact one of our counseling professionals today. They can help you discuss the impact that your family history has on your past and future behavior with drugs and alcohol. (877) 383-2284.

Image Credit: The John Templeton Foundation

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