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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Genetics, Chemical Imbalances and Addiction

Today we will examine the role genetics play in addiction. We are all aware that genetics do play a role when it comes to addictions. We know that if a parent or uncle or grandparent was an addict the risks of you becoming an addict are highly elevated. If you are interested in the statistics click the link to addictions and recovery here. It does a great job breaking it down for you. In my research for addictions week, I came across an interesting study that was reported on, that has shown a possible link in gender. Dr. Scott Stoltenberg, an assistant professor in the Psychology Department, found links between impulsivity and a rarely researched gene called NRXN3. The newly discovered connection, which was more prevalent among men than women in the study, may help explain certain inclinations toward alcohol or drug dependence.* I think that is pretty cool. Makes you wonder, if the beer companies know that little piece of info? 

I'd like to raise a question, the aforementioned is very interesting and well known and documented, but that is talking about organic addictions. Meaning chemical dependence to a specific drug or alcohol. Those addictions can be explained very easily, no? Body needs alcohol physically, or body needs heroine physically, I get that totally, but does your body chemically need to gamble? Does a person who is has a gambling addiction, is their body saying "I need to go to Vegas and play craps all night or I am going to go into withdrawal" or does someone who has an internet addiction, their body says "I have to watch one more Youtube video or check Facebook or I don't think I'll make it"? 

If you answered no to the gambling question I posed in the previous paragraph, well you would be wrong! Christine Hse of wrote an article called, A Brain Chemical That May Cause Gambling Addiction, or Bankruptcy. She reported that "experts explained that although most people would only enter a two outcome gamble if there was more of a possibility to win more than they could lose, and people with lower levels of norepinephrine transporters and higher levels of norepinephrine showed reduced sensitivity to financial loss, and therefore were more prone to impaired decision making(i.e. gamblers)".  In simple terms gambling addiction may be caused by something actually chemical that is going on in the brain previous to starting to gamble.

If you answered no to the internet addiction question, sadly for would be wrong again! Within the last year, researchers over at MIT and the University of Milan conducted a study that found reason that there is a chemical addiction to Facebook. The study concluded that "Statistical analysis of the psychophysiological data and pupil dilation indicates that the Facebook experience was significantly different from stress and relaxation on many linear and spectral indices of somatic activity. Moreover, the biological signals revealed that Facebook use can evoke a psychophysiological state characterized by high positive valence and high arousal."** Furthermore, Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Wuhan published an atrticle called, Abnormal White Matter Integrity in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder: A Tract-Based Spatial Statistics Study, in which the brains of Internet addicts may undergo chemical changes similar to those of alcoholics and other drug addicts.***

Really fascinating stuff...I personally was skeptical about gambling and internet addictions being a chemical imbalance, I blog corrected!

Happy "is winter back in the northeast?" Tuesday!
***Internet Addiction


  1. Re: your point about neurotransmitter abnormalities, I want to go back to my comment in a previous post about drawing lines. Where does this end? If i can prove that engaging in any repetitive behavior which then gets reinforced psychologically has an effect on NTs does that equal addiction? If I do a study on people who play games on their phone and prove NT changes are they addicted? what about self tanning? what about buying shoes ? assuming in all of these you could prove NT imbalances???

  2. Aside for norepinephrine, studies have found that in some people, gambling also causes an increase in dopamine. This is the neurotransmitter, specifically in the nucleus accumbens (the so called "pleasure center") in the brain, that is increased either directly or indirectly by all legal and legal addictive drugs.