Friday, January 1, 2010

Genetic Studies Offer Clues about Addiction Risks, Treatments

The social and health tolls of alcohol abuse, nicotine dependence, and drug addiction have been known for some time. But the genetic patterns that make some individuals more susceptible to abusing these substances — as well as those influencing their ability to quit — are less well understood.

Even so, a growing body of evidence is starting to unravel how genetics and epigenetics contribute not only to an individual's predisposition for becoming hooked on alcohol, nicotine, or other drugs, but also their ability to kick such habits. And experts say genetics is poised to impact clinical treatments for addiction in the not-too-distant future, with researchers already identifying genetic variants that may eventually help guide smoking-cessation therapy.

"[T]he rapid advances in the genetics of addiction hold great promise for developing treatments for addiction and reducing the enormous health burden of addiction," Jonathon Pollock, chief of the National Institute of Drug Abuse's genetics and molecular neurobiology research branch, and Trinity College geneticist Mani Ramaswami wrote in a preface to a special issue of the Journal of Neurogenetics earlier this year.

The issue contains numerous papers and reviews stemming from a NIDA short course on the genetics and epigenetics of addiction held in the spring of 2008.