I am driven to understand how people make sense of their own addiction

News on the genetics of addiction can crowd out information about its social and environmental context. Molly Dingel seeks to present addiction in its full, complicated web of causation.

Putting addiction into context

Molly Dingel
“Media portrayals of genetic addiction research do seem to shift our attention away from the social and environmental context.” Molly Dingel, Associate Professor Click to tweet

The many risk factors of addiction

Molly Dingel hopes her work will encourage people to understand addiction as a complex phenomenon that involves both biology and a person’s social and environmental context. Genetics play a role, and so does access, as in the case of prescription opioids. But there are other factors in drug abuse risk.

  • Genetics
  • Prescription opioids
  • Friends
  • Neighborhood poverty
  • Family history
  • Stress
Access to prescription drugs, such as opioids
Friends who use drugs or approve of drug use
Living in a neighborhood where limited options for legal employment leave it vulnerable to crime, including drug dealing and use
Family history of drug or alcohol use, which can create a chaotic home environment
Stress resulting from unemployment or low socioeconomic standing
Risk factors

Though the biological research is important, Dingel’s work shows that focusing on biology draws attention away from the social context of drug use and can create unrealistic expectations for pharmaceutical therapies. Also, those seeking treatment for addiction have a variety of responses to being told that addiction has a genetic basis; this implies that a genetic framework should be communicated carefully and in combination with an explanation of how genetics and social variables may interact.

How patients see their addiction

“We hope our work will help clinicians frame their conversations with patients about addiction.” Molly Dingel, Associate Professor Click to tweet