Addiction and mental disorders are diseases of the brain. These disorders are abnormalities of your genes, which could range from minor to major. If you are struggling with an addiction or a mental disorder, or both, research suggests that these disorders begin within your genetics — therefore, the choices you make could determine the seriousness of the disorder. This phenomenon, referred to as “genetic predisposition,” is based on the idea that you could have an increased likelihood of developing a particular disease or disorder.
Why Does This Happen?
It all begins in your DNA and is inherited through your family tree. Although the term genetics is broad and all-encompassing, research has confirmed that genes inherited from parent to child over generations might be more susceptible to developing disorders.
Research also shows that those who suffer from addiction tend to have children who suffer from addiction — and at much higher rates than parents with non-addictive behavior. The theory is that if you are born with a certain amount of chromosomes, your genes might link you to developing addiction or a mental disorder later in life.
Whether the abuse of drugs and alcohol causes addiction, or the genes do, one thing is certain — substance abuse is linked to perpetuating mental and physical disorders, including heart disease, cancer, depression, obesity, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Science bases their studies on the idea that the chemicals in our genes are like switches that can be flipped when abusing substances, thus triggering the response of a brain or health disorder.
Comorbid Mental Illness
The term “comorbid” refers to the presence of two existing disorders in a single individual. However, while there is a relationship between substance abuse and mental illness, it is hard to determine if a mental disorder leads to substance abuse or vice versa.
Some research suggests that poor dietary and substance abuse decisions can influence the growth of certain hormones, causing them to mutate. This mutation could be responsible for the onset of addiction or mental illness.
Additionally, many who suffer from a mental illness show a likelihood to self-medicate. The theory that a poor diet and substance abuse perpetuate gene mutation is only assumed, but ultimately unknown.
Effects of Dopamine
The brain might also lend some clues as to whether you are predisposed to addiction. Those with low dopamine levels (the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of pleasure) are found to be more susceptible to substance abuse because alcohol and drugs cause a surge in dopamine, creating a heightened sense of pleasure.
Because you are activating this dopamine response with substance abuse, you are causing your brain a great deal of exhaustion. As a result, the brain will produce even less dopamine, causing you serious deficiencies. These deficiencies can cause depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive behavior, which may lead to more substance abuse. Continued abuse is what creates dependency.
Memory and Behavior
Since there are consequences to our actions, most of us learn to behave in specific ways. However, there is evidence to suggest that substance abuse causes pathological dysfunction in the brain’s memory process. This is founded on how cellular levels and behavioral patterns converge.
If you are predisposed to addictive behavior, there might be dysfunction in how well or how long it takes you to adopt a behavioral pattern. It might take you more attempts before you can understand and learn from the consequences. Research suggests that substance abuse replaces your motivational cues to adopt the behavior needed to stop using.
Ways to Prolong Your Gene Health
Your genes are your own. While you cannot choose what genes may or may not mutate or what disorders you might develop in life, sobriety and dietary choices might be the best defense in prolonging the health of your brain, body, and genes. There is a certain link between substance abuse and the negative effects it has on the brain, so discontinuing use will allow the brain to regulate the chemicals it produces.
One way to begin curbing your cravings is by managing your stress. The impulse to drink or use is often brought on by stress. When you experience this impulse, try to be mindful of the moment. Focus on another idea to distract you and remember to regulate your breathing.
This will allow you to redirect the urge to use. For further assistance, ask a doctor or therapist to give you exercises to keep you focused. Use the opportunity to understand why you are having these thoughts and cravings — write them down and use them to form a plan to reduce the amount of stress in your day.
Eat Well and Exercise
A good diet and exercise routine should never be overlooked. Physical activity changes the methylation in your body, which helps your genes react in a good way. Activities like running, biking, and even walking are good ways to get started. A good diet could prevent the gene responsible for heart disease, respiratory disease, and brain disease. Start your diet by adding more greens and vegetables into your daily dishes.
Avoid Harmful Substances
Whether or not you are predisposed, it is not only responsible but good for your health to discontinue abusing drugs and alcohol. These efforts will reduce the risk of enacting a gene that could cause a greater risk for addiction in the future.
Ask for Help
If you are still concerned about your genetic makeup and worried that you might be predisposed to addiction or mental disorders, consult a doctor or therapist. These professionals can help monitor your behavior to look for clues that suggest you might be predisposed to certain disorders.
When you monitor your behavior and manage your health, you are putting yourself in a great position to understand how you are wired. Once you understand this, you can begin to take the necessary actions to prolong or prevent disorders from occurring.
If you are genetically predisposed or have a family history of addiction and mental health disorders, and are continuing to make harmful choices, then it’s time to get help. True Recovery offers 24/7 care and is determined to find the treatment that is right for you. Working together, we can help you win the battle against addiction. To learn more, call us at (866) 399-6528.