I think this is a very helpful article that sheds light on the world of addiction:
Here you have crack cocaine addicts giving birth to children, who are born addicted. Yet, the numbers as a group are undifferentiated from the rest of the poor of American society.
What does this tell us?
First, if addiction was genetic, the rates would be higher among the children of addicts, since these families have the gene and would be more likely to pass it down. The study does not reveal this. Instead, it shows high levels of use which are common in society.
Let's look again at the components of addiction:
1) Psychological distress compounded by a lack of faith.
2) An 'allergic reaction' to a substance that causes a significant release of dopamine and other brain chemicals that gives the person a 'relaxation response.'
3) An exposure to the allergen, which triggers a further desire once the stress returns to consciousness.
When you have these three things, you have the 'HIV' of addiction. This is the primary 'virus' that attacks the person, both psychologically and physically.
So, then you may ask, since we are comparing addiction to AIDS, when does actual addiction 'AIDS' set in?
This happens when you have:
A) Physical dependency (for chemical abuse).
B) Psychological obsession (uncontrollable thoughts about the addictor).
C) Brain pattern alterations.
D) Inability to 'normally' function without the addictor or a replacement substance/activity which triggers the necessary brain chemical reaction.
Now, you have the full-blown disease. One of the numbered factors is not enough to trigger addiction. In fact, two alone are not enough to really kick off the process. I'll give you an example.
There are plenty of addicts with long-term recovery who eventually need to take strong, physically-addictive pain medications. They are able to do so without relapse, even though they often experience the same dopamine levels they once got when they were using. Why don't they relapse? Because Factor #1 has been taken out of the equation, so the disease is not triggered.
The same is true for sober-alcoholic priests. Once they have spent enough time in sobriety to get #1 down to a 'manageable level' (living with a strong faith is a daily struggle), then sipping from the chalice or even consuming the Gifts after the Liturgy (a practice that should be done with caution and requires a moderate use of while when preparing the chalice) is not going to present a problem.
The 12 Steps are all about removing #1. After all, you cannot change the physical reaction, nor can one even eliminate all exposure to the addictor (think of the struggles of our brethren the food addicts... my hat is off to the toughest people I know!).
Yet, once an addict develops his Faith through the Steps, then the rest of the contributing factors lose their collective effectiveness. The stress that triggers the craving for the brain-chemical cocktail no longer initiates a binge, and the brain begins to heal. Neuro-pathways return to normal. The addict learns new life-coping skills which improves his well-being and eliminates the need to use.
It is a lifelong recuperation process, which is why the addict never goes back to play with fire. But, he can get on with a better life than before and experience sobriety.
Now, there may come a time when genetics may progress to the point where doctors can point to a genome feature and say, "Here, you are an addict in the making!" There are certainly indications that genes play a factor. However, we've known that all along: people with mental illness and anxiety have always struggled with addiction. However, we also know that not all of them become addicts.
We are still talking about, as this study indicates, a much more complex process of addict, which is very personal. A lot of it is environmental, though no one can say for certain that it is entirely so. We are still learning about how the brain works and how genes work. The one thing we can say for sure is that the Steps work for those who want to work them.