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Is drug addiction dominated by the inherent biologically addictive qualities of a drug, or are the addicted individuals society, culture and personality of greater importance?

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Introduction

Is drug addiction dominated by the inherent biologically addictive qualities of a drug, or are the addicted individuals society, culture and personality of greater importance? A variety of psychotropic drugs (drugs that make psychological changes) have been used, and are used in many societies all over the world, "alcohol and tobacco in advanced industrial countries, marijuana in India and North Africa, opium in the Far East, peyote amongst Navaho Indians, amanita mushrooms amongst Norse Warriors, Kava in Polynesia, henbane and thornapple by medieval European witches..." (Young, 1971: 9) The fact is that people can and do use drugs, but not all of them become addicted. As a student you hear many opinions about why people use drugs and how heroin is the only drug with inherent addictive qualities and that all the media attention given to drug abuse merely distorts the fact that it is the society we live in (Western, Anglo-American) that produces the problems that drugs seem to solve. However with my own family history of alcoholism I felt that the nature/nurture debate could still make more progress on this issue. Although this is only anecdotal evidence, the general consensus among people that I talked to about this project assumed that addiction is a cultural and social phenomenon or that it is purely biological, there was not much overlap between the two opinions. At the beginning of my research I was in the middle of these two views; the drug that someone is addicted to must have some kind of inherent quality that makes somebody want to take it, however there must be some kind of social conflict or cultural problem (as seen subjectively) to make a person want to take the drug repeatedly over time and become addicted. The various views that have been put forward on the issue of drug addiction seem to fail in explaining why people are addicted because they focus too narrowly on their own field of study, and I feel that addiction as a multifaceted phenomena needs a multidisciplinary, holistic approach to understand all its aspects. ...read more.

Middle

drink. This could be due to a genetic polymorphism in their gene for the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase. This means that they have a low brain turnover of serotonin and that whereas in most people high serotonin level produce anxiety in these people it produces a craving for alcohol (Nutt, 1996:3). This produces good evidence for the biological argument about addiction, but it does not explain why the person with the polymorphism craves alcohol specifically and it also assumes that there are different types of alcoholics, which can partially be accounted for by their genetic make-up. Genetic factors governing how an individual metabolises a drug may contribute evidence to determine if a person can be genetically predisposed to addiction. Dr Perkinson believes that this is the cause for addictions if there is a history of addiction in the family. "There is no major psychiatric disease that does not have genetic links. We are are all genetically predisposed to certain physical and mental illnesses. We are more likely to acquire the same diseases as the members of our family have had." (Perkinson, www.robertperkinson.com: 27/03/00) I find this genetic determinism too radical and too general to accept. He assumes that genes carry almost all the information that will programme your life and that you are helpless against the all-powerful force of nature. He suggests that if you have a history of alcoholism 'you either abstain from drugs and alcohol or you die.' Dr. Perkinson also suggests that if someone's parent is an alcoholic they will have a different way of metabolising alcohol that leads to alcoholism. However he does not suggest a source of this such as a genetic polymorphism or a method of inheritance from adult to child unless he is resorting to the Lamarckian mode of inheritance. He also assumes that environmental factors are of little importance when actually a family history of substance abuse may indicate a sustained environmental factor as the cause, such as in American Indians who's alcoholism can be attributed to generations of prejudice and the stress of loosing their land, families and cultural heritage (Eber, 1995:6). ...read more.

Conclusion

I find it difficult to accept this hypothesis for drug addiction although I find it very interesting and it would provide a convenient answer to why people do embrace addiction in the first place; to fulfil some unconscious need for ritual and initiation through group acceptance and belonging. These brief summaries of some of the perspectives given on addiction are very diverse and in many places difficult to reconcile. Although I feel a lot of progress has been made in the last three decades to increase the awareness of addiction I feel that organisations like Alcoholics Anonymous have gone too far in making the addict seem totally helpless to the drug they are addicted to. The biological evidence gives good reasons for the positive and negative reinforcing affects of drugs but they only tell you why someone would take the drug in the first place (the "high"), and how a drug problem escalates due to the affects of tolerance and withdrawal. They exclude the reasons why someone while being aware of the dangers associated with drugs and the possibility of addiction would continue to take the drugs once the initial curiosity has worn off. For the answer to these questions we have to go to the social and cultural side of the argument that puts forward the notion that drug addiction is the result of a dysfunctional personal life or in the case of Zoja the product of a society that does not include the essential element of initiation so that people look for their own esoteric rituals in a dysfunctional way that opens the door to addiction. These arguments seem to totally blame society for an addicts outside position. I think to fully understand the nature of addiction one has to synthesise the biomedical actions of the drug, the cultural setting that the addiction is taking place in and the individual's perceptions of society (which may or may not be pathological). This approach does not dangerously generalise and accepts that there could be many personal as well as societal and biological reasons for addiction, which gives the topic a holistic approach. ...read more.

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