Peer Substance Abuse May Increase Females’ Genetic Tendency to Use Drugs

Nature versus nurture debates concern the relative importance of an individual’s innate qualities (“nature”) versus life experiences and the individual’s environment (“nurture”) in determining individual difference in physical and behavioral traits.

A new study published in the journal Addiction adds to this debate, finding that young women with genetic predispositions to substance abuse are also predisposed to become friends with those who abuse substances. The study also found that being exposed to substance-abusing friends, in turn, increases a young woman’s genetic predisposition to abuse substances regularly.

Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis studied more than 2,000 female twins, looking for women who regularly smoked, drank, or used drugs, as well as women whose friends regularly smoked, drank, or used drugs. They found that being exposed to friends who abuse substances increases one’s genetic predisposition to regular use of drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes.

While it’s known that teens often choose friends with similar interests, including substance abuse, this study found that there is a genetic basis to selecting one’s peers. So if we are more likely to use drugs, we are more likely to choose friends who also use drugs, and thus become even more likely to regularly abuse substances. This “heritable influence” increased as individuals associated with more people who use drugs.

Dr. Arpana Agrawal, lead author of the paper, said that their research shows that nature and nurture don’t simply combine to produce a young woman who abuses substances, as nurture also increases the effect of nature.


Posted on June 21st, 2010

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