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Drugs, Booze, Bad Temper: It?s All in the Genes

Don?t blame yourself for your bad behavior, blame it on your genes. A lot of things that go wrong in life can be traced back to our genetic make-up.

Scientists have found that if you have a commonly-found mutation in a gene, you?re more likely to become addicted to drugs. This is the gene that controls the cannabinoids in the body, which are the feel-good enzymes we carry around with us naturally, without taking drugs. They act on the same neuroreceptors as marijuana and give us a natural ?high.? These enzymes control the reward and addiction pathways in the brain.

Roger Pertwee, professor of neuropharmacology at Aberdeen University in Scotland, says people with the mutated gene might need drugs to achieve the same "high" that other people achieve naturally. He thinks that genes account for 40-60% of the risk of drug abuse. DNA analysis shows that two copies of the mutated gene exist in 16 per cent of the people who admit abusing drugs and alcohol, and in a smaller percentage of people who are alcoholics but do not use drugs. Only four per cent of people with no drug or alcohol problems have two copies of the gene.

Pertwee says, "(This) may have the effect of reducing a person's inhibitions about taking illegal drugs in the first place."

Drink too much? Variations in a gene might explain why some people turn to alcohol when stressed, according to a German study. Mice lacking this gene started to drink three times more alcohol than normal mice while under stress. Six months later, they drank even more.

The gene is for CRH1, a receptor in the hormone system of the brain that controls responses to stress. CRH1 has previously been linked to stress-related psychiatric disorders. "Patients with alterations in this gene may be particularly susceptible to stress, and may respond with drinking," says Rainier Spanagel of the University of Heidelberg.

Stress is the biggest cause of relapse for recovering alcoholics, says Alan Leshner, head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a former director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse. "This important study points both to the underlying mechanisms of this effect and potential targets for prevention and treatment efforts," he says.

Spanagel?s team first gave normal and mutant mice a choice between water and ethanol alcohol solutions at different concentrations. Both chose a solution of eight per cent ethanol. The mice were then exposed to two types of stress. The first involved an attack by an unfamiliar mouse and the other required the mice to swim. Each stressful experience took place on three consecutive days.

After each stressful experience, both sets of mice continued to drink the normal amount of alcohol. But three weeks later, the mutant mice suddenly began drinking much more alcohol. Six months on, they were still drinking heavily. Spanagel says he can?t explain why three weeks passed before the mutant mice started to increase their alcohol intake. Maybe the memories of stress are worse than the real thing, when it comes to drinking.

Do you lose your temper? Dr. Redford Williams, director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Duke University School of Medicine, has spent three decades researching anger and has decided it may be inherited. "There is not one illness that we know of that is not made worse or brought on more quickly by chronic anger," he says.

He?s found a variation in a gene that we all carry that predicts who will have a bad temper. Those with the genetic variation have blood pressure that will soar to dangerous levels, and are at greater health risk. Long periods of anger raise our blood pressure and damage to the immune system, meaning too much anger can kill us.

Williams says it?s too early to consider screening everyone for an anger gene, but there may be a day when that gene for rage will identify people whose anger could literally kill them. He says, "We're getting to the point where we can identify, on the basis of genetic characteristics, people who are at high risk."

Stay calm by learning how to meditate. Charles Tart, one of our most popular Dreamland guests, shows you how in ?Mindscience: Meditation Training for Practical People,click here.

To learn about genes and drug addiction, click here.

To learn more about alcohol and stress,click here.

To learn how to control your hot temper,click here.

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