Biology vs. Environment

Biology vs. Environment

Biology vs. Environment: The case of addiction

If there is one debate in psychology that has been going on forever, it is the nature vs. nurture debate or, to express it in different terms, the biology vs. environment debate. This debate has been going on for a long time and has never been settle either way, although the most popular recent approaches take a middle ground that integrates both sides. One of the issues in relation to this the debate has continued, however, is addiction. Let’s take a look at the sides of this argument.

From the biological side, it has been said that addiction may be explained primarily using biological factors, like genetics and neurobiology. This side has some very compelling arguments. Firstly, it appears that addiction is associated with a genetic predisposition. Addiction frequently runs in families and may be associated with a complex set of genes. The genetic factor of addiction is relatively well-identified and may play a significant role in determining why some people develop substance abuse problems and others do not. The second set of biological factors associated with addiction is associated with the neurobiology of the drugs. Each drug has its own effects on the brain. Some are relaxing, others are stimulating. They act upon different chemicals and structures in the brain, altering its normal functioning to induce feelings of euphoria, pleasure, peace, and  other desirable feelings that motivate people to continue using. Drugs also cause tangible changes on the structure and functioning of the brain and the body, leading to changes that can be measured and observed. They change the amounts of chemicals the brain releases, the degree to which structures become active, how the brain responds to situations beyond the drugs, and so on.

In regards to biology, there are several very well documented aspects associated with biology. But if this is so, then why is it that environmental factors are a part of the discussion? Doesn’t biology explain everything? Let’s take a look.

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While biology explains a lot about addiction, it does not quite manage to explain everything. In regards to the neurobiological properties of drugs, for instance, there is something very important to consider. If drugs are so addictive purely due to their biological properties, then why do some people become addicted and others do not?  One might bring genetics but this does not seem to be the explanation for 100% of cases.

If one takes a look at the study of environmental factors, it can be seen that there are many that are consistently associated with addiction. Things like poverty, a lack of education, bad family relationships, a lack of parental support, and other environmental factors are frequently linked to addiction. This extends also to protective factors. Children growing up in families with high-quality relationships, in well-off families, are less likely to develop substance abuse problems.  A lot of the discussion on addiction as a social problems emphasizes issues like a lack of opportunities or employment and bad quality of life as contributors to the development of addiction.

So, what does this suggest? It shows that addiction can not be explained fully using just the biological or the environmental models, however, by considering both of them and their interplay it is possible to obtain a better and more comprehensive model of addiction.

This has important implications for  our understanding of addiction. We cannot use a “moral” model of addiction if we are aware of all the factors that contribute to it, many of which are beyond the individual’s control, like genetics or a bad social environment. We can also identify different risk factors that will allow us to identify people who might have a higher risk of addiction and interact with these factors. For example, by working to promote more positive parenting practices in a community, it is possible to reduce addiction rates in that community.

Overall, in the biology vs. environment debate, there really is no clear winner. Instead, each side in this debate can enhance our understanding of addiction and help us understand addiction as a complex phenomenon that depends on many different factors. Understanding the biological and environmental aspects of addiction can help improve the way in which people understand addiction and also inform the policies and measures taken to prevent and treat it.

If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction and might require medically supervised detoxification, please contact Dr. Seitz at Home Detox NY for a free consultation! Feel free to read our previous blog about the importance of good nutrition in recovery

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