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Stanton Peele: Addiction Isn't Inherited

People are "blinded" by genetic theories, argues the leading opponent of the disease model of addiction.

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By Chrisanne Grise

06/18/12

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There is very little evidence that addictive behavior can be inherited biologically or genetically, argues Stanton Peele—the psychologist, leading opponent of the disease model of addiction and sometime Fix contributor—in a provocative article published by the non-12 step addiction treatment and research organization Saint Jude Retreats. Peele writes that of the many reasons why people choose to drink or do drugs, factors like circumstances and environment are far more important than genetic inheritance—for which the evidence is "minor"—or the brain's neurochemistry. "People are blinded by genetic theories so that they can't take in the facts all around them," he writes. "Becoming—and remaining—addicted has a lot more to do with the groups people come from and associate with, and from their beliefs and expectations about alcohol or drugs (or other activities), than from their biological makeup."

Peele cites the example of rock band Aerosmith: all five members joined AA at once—just as they once drank and did drugs together. "How unlikely a coincidence it is that five unrelated people with the alcoholic/addictive inheritance should run into one another and form a band!" he says. Mark Scheeren, Chairman of Saint Jude Retreats, agrees: "Addiction is simply a series of habitual behaviors which can be changed. Substance use boils down to a thought which is the conscious decision to drink and/or drug. There is no gene of addiction, unlike rehabilitation programs would like you to believe." Proponents of such programs, and of the disease model, will be quick to disagree.

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