How We Get Addicted: Dopamine Deficiency, the Addiction Gene, and Other Factors

The previous article “Marijuana and Dopamine” explains how the reward system in our brain doesn’t exactly discourage us when it comes to getting addicted to marijuana.  In fact, our neurological system aids and abets drug use via the go system. Eventually, though, it tries to regain control by dialing down dopamine levels in order to bring our brain chemistry into balance. This double whammy of reward system overdrive and lowered dopamine levels bring on addiction.

Is Drug Addiction Hereditary?

We’ve gone over the brain’s reward pathway and how addiction turns this system against us and causes us to become addicted. Lets acquaint ourselves now with the risk factors for addiction. One of the biggies is what some scientists have dubbed “the addiction gene.” In his book Clean, David Sheff notes that this term is a misnomer as there are “actually a constellation of genes that interact among themselves and with the environment to increase the likelihood of addiction.” But whether it’s one gene or a constellation of genes, the fact is that if addiction runs in your family, you have a higher chance of becoming addicted to marijuana. According to Sheff, 8-10% of the population is estimated to be walking around with the addiction genes. Sheff sums it up this way:
“There are two ways people become addicted. Anyone who takes enough of a drug to cause severe structural and functional changes in the brain can become addicted. But most people who become addicted do so because their brains are different before they use drugs, not because they use drugs.” 
Ruben Baler of the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Science Policy Branch also stresses the importance of genetic predisposition to drug addiction: “They [genes] impact how long a drug will remain active in a users’ bloodstream, how many dopamine receptors will be displayed on the surface of a neuron, [and] the proper balance of mood-controlling chemicals in the brain.” Sheff claims that overemphasizing the genetic component of addiction isn’t possible and Dr. Shoptaw, a licensed psychologist and Professor in the UCLA Departments of Family Medicine, Psychiatry, and Biobehavioral Sciences, gave addiction genes an intimidating nickname “sleeping monster.” Shoptaw says the monster’s slumber can be disturbed by even a single joint. That said, Sheff concedes that a genetic predisposition will only up the ante of becoming addicted to marijuana. Therefore, just because someone has a sleeping monster in his DNA doesn’t mean addiction is a foregone conclusion, and that is true even if he or she hasn’t let sleeping monsters lie. Nowadays, research attributes about 50% of the tendencies towards addiction to genes

David Sheff, breaking it down 


books about drug addiction
David Sheff: clean


If genes are only 50% of the picture, what’s the other half? Non-genetic risk factors for addiction include age of first use, stress, poverty, trauma, behavioral disorders, and mental illness. The gateways for addiction are chemical, biological, and psychological. A person’s brain chemistry, genes, and personality all contribute to addiction. In the next article, we’ll take a look at why the age of first use is so important.
You have to know how something is put together in order to take it apart:  The better you understand the causes of marijuana addiction, the easier it will be for you to dismantle that addiction.


Comments are closed.