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Alcoholism and Labeling

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DancingBear
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If someone has a drinking problem, should they label themselves and allow others to label them as an alcoholic? On the one hand, I think it's important for people to confront reality. If someone gets drunk, especially often, then they are being harmful to themselves and others in all likelihood.

On the other hand, experts in substance abuse issues and psychology claim that there is a genetic basis for substance abuse. This gene is supposed to be the reason someone isn't just getting drunk but has a physical problem with staying sober. In other words, getting drunk is not a choice.

This second conclusion bothers me more than the first. If someone gets drunk, fine. They can stop getting drunk. If someone is alcoholic, not fine. They will never stop getting drunk. The will forever be temporarily sober until they start drinking again.

Beyond the philosophical implications of both conclusions, consider the political and societal implications. For instance, being labeled an alcoholic may have legal or medical ramifications.

Which conclusion is right? Are neither right? Is this a non-issue? Is this the right forum? Has this question been answered in another thread?

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Genes do not determine our actions, and everyone can in fact choose to not drink alcohol in the first place. As for those who are genetically predisposed to become addicted, now that this phenomenon has been discovered there is no excuse for them to ever even try drugs or alcohol, and risk addiction.

And yes, if someone chose to not be careful and ended up an addict in the past, they should be labeled what they are, and they should start a program designed to help alcoholics stay sober. There are people who managed to beat all kinds of addiction, so it can be done.

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What would be the reason that would cause a gene that would supposedly predispose someone to addiction exist? When our genes were creating themselves no substances yet existed that a human could be addicted to. How would such a gene operate? By causing a random unknown longing for unknown undiscovered substances?

Or is it more likely that the "experts" that investigate such things are simply starting from the wrong conclusions based on bad philosophy and then biasing their experiments and data to prove their ideas, like environmentalists do?

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It is important to pay attention to the language being used in such studies. When researches write: "Gene X has been linked to....." it is not a causation statement but a correlation statement based on statistics using some type of database. Usually this follows with the sentence explaining the estimated vulnerability odds. For example you may read something like this: "The women with this mutation were almost twice as likely as white men, black women or black men to develop addiction to ........" Notice that this almost twice as likely only is of significance after a person already ingested the substance frequently enough by choice. How the data was gathered (both on the sequencing part and on the life outcome part) is also always significant.

Edited by ~Sophia~
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What would be the reason that would cause a gene that would supposedly predispose someone to addiction exist? When our genes were creating themselves no substances yet existed that a human could be addicted to.

What would cause humans to get drunk from those substances to begin with?

Random mutation. Genes don't "create themselves for a reason", they mutate randomly over generations, and some mutations survive (based on their usefulness in adapting to the environment or luck of the draw).

Non adaptive traits can also be pleiotropic (caused by genes that have multiple effects, some neutral or harmful - kind of like "unintended side effects", if you look past the nonsensical mention of "intentions" in a process not engineered by an intelligent mind), or vestigial (a trait that used to be useful, but is not anymore).

Or is it more likely that the "experts" that investigate such things are simply starting from the wrong conclusions based on bad philosophy and then biasing their experiments and data to prove their ideas, like environmentalists do?

I have seen no evidence of that, so no, it's not likely. My advice for those who have alcoholism running rampant in their family is to not even try alcohol or drugs. The evidence that you are more vulnerable to addiction (because of both upbringing and genetics) is well documented. (so don't even drink if you were adopted)

Edited by Jake_Ellison
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What would be the reason that would cause a gene that would supposedly predispose someone to addiction exist? When our genes were creating themselves no substances yet existed that a human could be addicted to. How would such a gene operate? By causing a random unknown longing for unknown undiscovered substances?

Or is it more likely that the "experts" that investigate such things are simply starting from the wrong conclusions based on bad philosophy and then biasing their experiments and data to prove their ideas, like environmentalists do?

Two simple guesses

A. random occurence, evolution occurs by natural selection; which means strange things(relative to current settings) can result from genetic adaptation over thousands of generations

B. the gene that makes you crave something that makes you happy(presumably related to addictive behavior) has an evolutionary advantage. This is plausible as craving something(such as food) leads to gathering more of it which improves survival chances.

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Jake_Ellison:

"so don't even drink if you were adopted"

HaHa.

Mmmcanniballism:

"the gene that makes you crave something that makes you happy...has an evolutionary advantage."

Isn't happiness a result of value judgements, not genetics?

Assuming a gene for addiction is possible, it would survive evolution very long, considering all addicts I've seen are completely dependent on others and often detrimental to those same people. I use the term addicts because that is the generally accepted term for people who abuse drugs, not because I believe addiction exists.

Finally, as far as addiction-recovery programs are concerned, isn't it in their best interest to convince someone that they are addicted, have no control, and therefore require the assistance of professionals. I relate this to the medical and specifically the pharmaceutical industry, where nearly every medicine it seems has a risk of suicide as a withdrawal symptom. So don't stop taking the medicine, because you might kill yourself!

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Random mutations don't cause you to want anything they affect you physically. It's far from well documented that it is genetic because even the idea of it is impossible therefore there can be no real evidence.

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Random mutations don't cause you to want anything they affect you physically.

I happen to be an ex smoker, so I know that addiction is a physical phenomena, just like hunger and thirst. Alcoholism is primarily a physical condition. An alcoholic doesn't want to get drunk every day (in fact he wants the exact opposite), his body causes him to crave it and he lacks the will power (or, more exactly the proper motivation) to overcome that craving. That's where rehab and AA programs come in, to help the mind focus and resist the physical urge.

Try not eating for a while, see how badly your body will make you crave food, until that craving wins over your "want" to keep the experiment going. The craving for food, just like the cravings of an addict, are physical traits inherited across generations, through the genes. It's exactly random mutations from primitive life forms that caused all those genes, and therefor those traits, to exist.

Of course addictions are caused by genes. The only question is, are different genes causing some people to become addicted more easily than others? Studies show that yes.

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The craving for food, just like the cravings of an addict, are physical traits inherited across generations, through the genes.

This is false. It is not like food. Unless a baby was physically exposed to the substance there is no craving. Unless exposed in-utero, that first decision to take in the substance is not affected by biochemistry - it is a free choice.

Of course addictions are caused by genes. The only question is, are different genes causing some people to become addicted more easily than others? Studies show that yes.

Addictions are biochemical changes in the body cased by the substance. Without the influence of the substance there is no addiction. Those reported correlations are only relevant in the presence of the substance and in many cases in light of repeated exposure. Otherwise they are not relevant. There is no gene which makes someone pick up that first or second drink. There are mutations which alter the metabolism of that drink in some people once digested which may influence their "will power" to stay away from it (and still NOT in a deterministic way).

Edited by ~Sophia~
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This is false. It is not like food. Unless a baby was physically exposed to the substance there is no craving. Unless exposed in-utero, that first decision to take in the substance is not affected by biochemistry - it is a free choice.

I wasn't talking about the first choice. I was talking about the choice of an addict. It is affected by a biochemistry which can only exist in some living organisms, but not others. The differences between species (including this one) were in fact, as per the theory of evolution, developed through random mutations. So no, that is not false.

Addictions are biochemical changes in the body cased by the substance.

That's not true, it's imprecise wording aimed to circumvent my argument. In fact, alcohol would not cause those biochemical changes in any body, it will only cause them in the bodies of a select few species of animals. That is because there is an evolutionary trait, from some early point in evolution (likely before the existence of mammals), which makes both the phenomenon of becoming intoxicated as well as addicted, possible.

Just like alcoholism wouldn't be possible without alcohol, it also wouldn't be possible without the development of the genes which cause those two traits to be present in various species. Saying that addiction is caused by a substance, and therefor it is not caused by the evolutionary process, is wrong. It is caused by both, obviously.

Edited by Jake_Ellison
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Jake Ellison,

Alcohol and other similar substances if consumed frequently enough will cause addiction in most if not all humans. For some humans it will just be harder to stay away.

That is because there is an evolutionary trait, from some early point in evolution (likely before the existence of mammals), which makes both the phenomenon of becoming intoxicated as well as addicted, possible.

Just like alcoholism wouldn't be possible without alcohol, it also wouldn't be possible without the development of the genes which cause those two traits to be present in various species.

It is not an evolutionary trait the way you are making it to be. Your last statement above is meaningless really. It is like saying no life is possible without carbon thus carbon is causing x.

We have developed certain set of genes which create proteins that interact with each other in a complex biochemical system for other much closely related to survival reasons. It just happens that some substances affect our biochemistry in a way which makes us addicted to it.

There are many possible mechanism but, for example, some substances affect us because they just happen to be close in their physical molecular structure to another molecule naturally produced in our body - close enough that they can mimic it's function. That naturally occurring molecule is produced in a much lower quantities so the effect of it on our proteins is much less (our normal state) but that outside substance enters our body in unnatural/much higher dose (because it was synthetically produced), mimics that naturally occurring molecule, and creates a much more pronounced/stronger effect or even a completely different never intended effect (abnormal biochemical state - which we experience as more pronounced physiological effect).

No specific trait selected for during evolution was involved. Biochemical ability existed for different reason and was hijacked if you will. This is the case more often than not. We sometimes make use of this on purpose - when we look for new, never existing before, drugs.

(P.S Molecular biology and genomics is not a just a hobby for me. I have a degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and I have been working in the field for almost 10 years now. I am not a specialist on addictions but I do have a good grasp of the connection between genes and environment)

Edited by ~Sophia~
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It is not an evolutionary trait the way you are making it to be. Your last statement above is meaningless really. It is like saying no life is possible without carbon thus carbon is causing x.

Of course the existence of carbon caused and determined the creation and evolution of life. If you find that statement (or my previous statement) meaningless, you don't understand causality.

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Of course the existence of carbon caused and determined the creation and evolution of life. If you find that statement (or my previous statement) meaningless, you don't understand causality.

That is not what I meant by my analogy. It was a response to your false claim that inherited genes are causing substance dependence without the physical influence of such substance. Genes make responses to outside chemicals possible by producing proteins which are the actors in all of this (in this way genes are like carbon - actors need to be there for any action to happen) but not necessarily cause such responses to happen (cause can happen downstream from the influence of a gene) and certainly not in the absence of this outside chemical.

Going back to my example above....perhaps that naturally occurring molecule is a bi-product (waste) of some pathway only present in higher animals and absent in less complex species. Because this pathway is not present there is no problematic bi-product and no mechanism to get rid of it. In such case this lower animal would not be affected by this synthetic substance able to mimic this bi-product in humans.

A fact that we can be affected by a chemical x (and perhaps in a way different from other species) is in no way necessarily an indication of genetic selection for this trait. As explained by my example - it could be an unintended consequence.

Edited by ~Sophia~
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I was going to answer similarly to Sofia's posts but probably less eloquently since I hate typing out long posts because I'm usually just flipping over to the forum for a minute while playing poker.

I had a feeling Jake or someone would say addiction's like needing food but one thing is something your body needs to function while the other is a psychological/physical yearning caused by chemical changes in the brain.

I'm also addicted to smoking and have used to much Xanax in the past so I know about addictions and how hard they are kick. This doesn't mean that I was "determined" by my genes to become addicted I just make bad choices sometimes. It's a moral issue compounded by the fact that certain substances affect your mind/body in ways that make it hard to stop even when you know that and their effects. I blame myself not my genes. No cop-outs here.

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This doesn't mean that I was "determined" by my genes to become addicted I just make bad choices sometimes. It's a moral issue compounded by the fact that certain substances affect your mind/body in ways that make it hard to stop even when you know that and their effects.

So if poor decision-making is the true culprit, then labels like alcoholism are unnecessary and perhaps detrimental due to the fact that they distract the the user and people trying to help him from the true cause. Instead of relating addiction to eating, which is a survival issue, perhaps its better to say it's like eating junk food, watching too much television, or staying up too late. These are all easy things to change, but for someone without the necessary incentive, like a job or obvious health issues, the change is less likely. Everything affects your mind through reward and punishment, some things more intensely than others, but the concept of routine and habit are similar throughout.

I'm specifically concerned about the labels addict and alcoholic and how they are permanent. I understand that if someone has been making bad decisions for a period of time, labeling them as an addict is a way to describe their poor decision-making. However, assuming the addict cleans himself up and begins making good decisions again, shouldn't he deserve to no longer be call an addict? In reality, he no longer is, but according to society, he deserves to be handled with care for the rest of his life.

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So if poor decision-making is the true culprit, then labels like alcoholism are unnecessary and perhaps detrimental due to the fact that they distract the the user and people trying to help him from the true cause. Instead of relating addiction to eating, which is a survival issue, perhaps its better to say it's like eating junk food, watching too much television, or staying up too late. These are all easy things to change, but for someone without the necessary incentive, like a job or obvious health issues, the change is less likely. Everything affects your mind through reward and punishment, some things more intensely than others, but the concept of routine and habit are similar throughout.

I'm specifically concerned about the labels addict and alcoholic and how they are permanent. I understand that if someone has been making bad decisions for a period of time, labeling them as an addict is a way to describe their poor decision-making. However, assuming the addict cleans himself up and begins making good decisions again, shouldn't he deserve to no longer be call an addict? In reality, he no longer is, but according to society, he deserves to be handled with care for the rest of his life.

Except that your premise that alcoholism is just another habit is false. It's a physical condition. Instead of bothering to understand the Objectivist position on volition, EC is applying it dogmatically and poorly (because he apparently can't be bothered to take time off poker and think), and you're buying into it. Please, get OPAR, and read the appropriate chapter (http://www.peikoff.com/opar/volition.htm) instead. You'll find that free will does not contradict the notion of being an addict.

An addict is still objectively an addict even after years of not using the substance. His physiology is still that of an addict, and not that of a non-addict. I know for instance that if I went on a smoking binge, in a few days I would be back where I started before I quit. That's in contrast to a person who is not a nicotine addict, who would not become addicted if he smoked the same amount I did. With heroin and other dangerous substances, this is true even more. The addiction is so strong that most people will simply never be able to muster the mental effort needed to fight it. At least not without help. Free will only applies to the extent they can choose to agree in advance to being physically restrained (in a rehab facility) by others. The notion that any heroin addict could sit in a room next to a syringe of heroin and choose to go through withdrawal is ridiculous.

Free will is the ability to choose to focus our mind or not (in the specific ways we are capable of doing so), it's not the ability to do anything we want at any time we want it, irrespective of our psychology and physiology.

Edited by Jake_Ellison
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  • 2 weeks later...

Random mutation. Genes don't "create themselves for a reason", they mutate randomly over generations, and some mutations survive (based on their usefulness in adapting to the environment or luck of the draw).

Okay, as much as I admire Darwin and his good works, the hypothesis that genetic evolution is a process of random mutation is not supported by the facts.

And the assumption that life itself is a product of entropic jiggling is the logical conclusion of this line of reasoning.

Whether one considers how the machinery of life came to be, or how it came to evolve as it has, entropic considerations prohibit, within the bounds of reasonable doubt, the spontaneous evolution of DNA from simple molecules; and if the initiation of life cannot be random, it must be according to some patterns that are given and not stumbled upon. And, logically, the evolution is then also shaped, rather than random.

Randomness contradicts the law of cause and effect. There is no such thing as randomness, in the purist sense. Uncertainty is always bounded, i.e., certainty is structural and acts to contain uncertainty. Uncertainty can be dealt with; randomness, like irrationality, cannot.

- ico

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Is alcoholism inherited? There is some evidence that it could be, but science has yet to find the direct genetic link.

In a genetic study of unprecendented scope, researchers have used new genomic technology to indentify human genes in people most at risk for developing alcoholism, which could revolutionize treatment and prevention options.

http://alcoholism.about.com/od/genetics/a/genome_map.htm

"Because someone has a genetic tendency to develop a disease, it does not guarantee they will have the disease, only that they are at higher risk for doing so than the average person."

""Previous studies established that alcoholism runs in families, but this research has given us the most extensive catalogue yet of the genetic variations that may contribute to the hereditary nature of this disease," says NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow. "We now have new tools that will allow us to better understand the physiological foundation of addiction."

"This is an important contribution to studies of the genetics of alcoholism and co-occurring substance use disorders," adds Dr. Ting-Kai Li, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). "The findings will open many new avenues of research into common factors in genetic vulnerability and common mechanisms of disease."

Led by Dr. George Uhl, the scientist developed a new genetic platform that allowed them to generate 29 million genotypes and analyze 104,268 genetic variations in DNA samples from people who were and were not alcohol dependent."

http://www.nytimes.com/1987/11/10/science/alcoholism-genetic-links-grow-clearer.html

http://alcoholism.about.com/od/genetics/a/blniaaa060418.htm

http://alcoholism.about.com/od/genetics/a/blacer051117.htm

http://alcoholism.about.com/cs/genetics/a/aa000517.htm

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Jake_Ellison:

"so don't even drink if you were adopted"

HaHa.

Mmmcanniballism:

"the gene that makes you crave something that makes you happy...has an evolutionary advantage."

Isn't happiness a result of value judgements, not genetics?

Assuming a gene for addiction is possible, it would survive evolution very long, considering all addicts I've seen are completely dependent on others and often detrimental to those same people. I use the term addicts because that is the generally accepted term for people who abuse drugs, not because I believe addiction exists.

Finally, as far as addiction-recovery programs are concerned, isn't it in their best interest to convince someone that they are addicted, have no control, and therefore require the assistance of professionals. I relate this to the medical and specifically the pharmaceutical industry, where nearly every medicine it seems has a risk of suicide as a withdrawal symptom. So don't stop taking the medicine, because you might kill yourself!

As a person who is an addict and has been in an outpatient treatment, I can tell you your assertion about treatment facilities and professionals is untrue. From my experience, the professionals at these places don't 'convince you' that you're addicted and have no control. When I entered into treatment (voluntarily), it was because my life was becoming unmanageable as a result of drug use/addiction. The professionals at this facility hold the addicts accountable for their actions. They don't tell you that you have 'no control', rather, you DO have control, and you DO have the power to make the decisions it takes to live a sober life.

All I know is that I hate that the mental health establishment labels you an addict for life even if you break your addiction. Seems that if you quit, you're not an alcoholic anymore.

If you had a disease such as diabetes, you can't magically not be diabetic any longer. However, if you eat a healthy diet, take the proper medicine, exercise, etc. you can manage your diabetes and live your life. The four criteria for a disease are that a disease is I. Primary, II. Progressive, III. Chronic, and IV. Fatal. Addiction meets all of these criteria.

There are things an addict, just like a diabetic, can do to manage their disease, but they are still an addict.

Edited by Kori
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I have alcoholism in my family. In high school and college while everyone else was getting stupid drunk, I didn't.

Now that folks are more mature, I just don't drink.

Because I never have, I have no conceivable desire to drink. The smell of alcohol, sometimes pleasant, sometimes not, nevertheless has no effect of desire on me. Pouring golden beer in a football ad is boring and meaningless to me.

I'm incredibly lucky to be in such a position of strength visavis alcohol. But it was also a series of tough, dedicated choices that led to this.

I hear alcohol is pleasant. Maybe so. But socializing grows awfully boring once thoughts start drifting, people start adopting that mindless gaze...

This is meant for those young enough to be in my position. Maybe you don't have alcoholism in your family - but what value will you gain by trying alcohol? What value will you lose? Think about it.

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  • 2 months later...

I happen to be an ex smoker, so I know that addiction is a physical phenomena, just like hunger and thirst.

I happen to have stopped smoking, too, and have found the physical aspect minimal. It is the ASSOCIATION of certain physical states/sensations/settings with the smoking that is the hard part. It is the HABIT that is hard to break, long term. The chemical effects pretty much go away after a month or so, but how many folk restart past 6 weeks? Hmmm?

I say, it's mostly SPIRITUAL, as in, your conscious choices and subconscious summations are at odds, and guess who wins?

Labeling even smoking as primarily physical addiction just makes it easier for smoker's to rationalize the fact that they DON'T REALLY WANT TO STOP!

If anecdotal evidence counts, then here's mine: the day I realized that, net net, smoking was costing me noticeably more than I gained from doing it (which is not the null set, as so many evangelists would claim), based on my own experience and not what I was told, I quit. Simple.

- ico

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