Is it ethical to handle alcoholism like any other addiction due to its prevalence in genetics? Should we treat alcoholism the way we treat a genetic disorder? If it is a disease, can we force alcoholics to get treatment? (by Ben Gottlieb)

[ By on May 15, 2017 ]

The problem with alcoholism is that it is treated like an addiction and not a genetic disease. While it is defined as an addiction because it could affect anyone, many people have genetic makeups that make them more susceptible to alcohol use disorder. There are known genes that can boost the power of alcohol and reduce the impact of a hangover. People with these gene combinations may get a bigger high from drinking, and they may not feel ill or sick after a long day of drinking (NIAAA). These traits can easily lead to alcohol abuse, and to me it feels like alcoholism is more than just an addiction.

Viewing alcoholism as a genetic disease is not so far-fetched, but it’s more genetically complicated than Down Syndrome or Huntington’s Disease because there is no specific “alcoholism gene.” That being said there are noticeable genes that are believed to cause a higher susceptibility. These genes were identified first in mice: The A1 allele of the dopamine receptor gene DRD2 is more common in people addicted to alcohol, lacking the serotonin receptor gene Htr1b are more attracted to cocaine and alcohol, lacking the serotonin receptor gene Htr1b are more attracted to cocaine and alcohol, or lacking the serotonin receptor gene Htr1b are more attracted to cocaine and alcohol (Learn.Genetics). This data leads me to view alcoholism as a genetic disorder.

The real issue that I am pointing towards is that because it is an addiction and not a genetic disease, treatment and help are all optional. It is up to the alcoholic to get help, they can check themselves out of hospitals and institutions. All it takes is denial and pride and one may never get the help one needs. With all the advancements in gene technology, there is a possibility that we can cure the susceptibility to AUD.

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2 Comments on “Is it ethical to handle alcoholism like any other addiction due to its prevalence in genetics? Should we treat alcoholism the way we treat a genetic disorder? If it is a disease, can we force alcoholics to get treatment? (by Ben Gottlieb)”

  1. KNF

    Hi Ben, I think that for this paper it would be necessary to find out why people are hesitant to treat alcoholism as a disease/genetic disorder and just label it as an addiction that does not require legitimate treatment. This could be economic, social, etc. Otherwise it would be hard to say that it is unethical to change the way we view this epidemic.

  2. KNF

    Kelley Nicholson-Flynn

    [ May 16, 2017 at 4:40 pm ]

    I think it would be interesting to examine the original primary articles about the DRD2 variants. How many people with the problematic variant have alcoholism? Similarly, how many alcoholics have the gene variant? Finally, there is often a tendency to think that this is an “either / or” situation – either it is genes or the environment that determine traits (like alcoholism), but what if it is the interaction? There is a field called “epigenetics” that might be interesting to explore.

Hi Stranger, reply with your thoughts:

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