A National Institutes of Health (NIH) study has ventured into the realm of genetics and substance abuse, and has come out with some truly amazing results. This finding could lead to the ability to identify people at risk for addiction to alcohol and other drugs.
The recent study, which was performed by researchers at the Molecular Neurology Branch of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), examined the human genome to find genes and gene patterns that could be connected to alcoholism and other addictions.
Spurred on by previous studies, which proved that alcoholism could be passed on genetically from parents to children, this NIH study went further — actually cataloging the different genetic variations that could trigger alcoholism and providing more information on how the disease works.
Before we go any further, note that the “human genome” is the collection of genetic information that makes up an individual person. A “genetic variation” refers to the difference between DNA sequences amongst specific people.
The NIDA researchers first developed and tested a new genetic platform, which they then used to generate more than 29 million different genotypes and analyze 104,268 genetic variations from a group of alcohol-dependant people and a group without any addiction disorders.
They found that specific genetic variations, located in 51 chromosomal areas of the body, could be linked to alcoholism. The genes found to be involved in the process of addiction have many other roles in the function of the human body, including communication between cells and the synthesis of protein. Some of the genes specified in this study have previously been pinpointed in other studies, which means they’re definitely on the right track. However, this study went much further, looking at the bigger picture of genetic variations, not just specific genes.
Genetic mumbo jumbo aside, why is this study so important? Well, it could provide a way to test people for the predisposition to alcoholism and other substance abuse behaviors. This means that treatment at an earlier stage is possible, leading to actual prevention of the disease in the future.