One reason addiction treatment is such a complex topic is that addiction itself is so complex, often resulting from a number of contributing factors. Drug addiction is believed to be a combination of genetic predisposition, environment, and triggering events, and even that is probably an oversimplification.

Research into addiction treatment must come from several different directions if healthcare professionals are to make addiction treatment more effective, and one of those directions is genetic. Researchers are working toward the day when genetic markers may be identified in people that will allow addiction to be avoided more easily and treated more comprehensively.

The RGMA Gene and its Association with Opioid Dependence

A gene known as RGMA is located on the 15th chromosome, and variants on it are associated with increased risk for opioid addiction. More specifically, people with a variant named rs12442183*T near the RGMA gene are believed to be more prone to opioid addiction. Changes in how this gene is regulated may interfere with the brain’s neural networks. The variant is associated with increased signals to the frontal cortex of the brain, which is an increase that is correlated with higher risk of opioid dependency.

Association Stronger in People of European Descent

The association between the variation near the RGMA gene and opioid dependence risk appears to be stronger among people of European ancestry. The association exists among people of African ancestry, but the correlation does not appear as strong. The RGMA gene is associated with cell death and nerve damage, and its activity is also linked to the damage caused by Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, and stroke.

Variants in Gene Near OPRM1 Associated with Response in People of African Descent

Variants of genes involved in potassium and calcium signaling in nerve cells were found to correlate with risk of opioid addiction in people of African descent, but not in those of European descent. Researchers are hopeful that understanding this gene, located near the opioid receptor mu 1 (OPRM1) gene will allow for better dosing of methadone for those of African ancestry seeking addiction treatment. It may also allow more tailored calculation of painkiller dosage, which may ultimately reduce the risk of opioid addiction resulting from medically prescribed opioid therapy.

Woman comforting a man in addiction treatment

Better understanding of genetic variants may allow for better therapeutic opioid dosing.

Goals: Better Therapeutic Opioid Dosing, Tailored Addiction Treatment

Understanding genes and their role in addiction (and consequently, in addiction treatment) is in early stages, but the future looks promising. When people’s specific genetic markers are accounted for along with their addiction symptoms, social situation, and other medical and mental health issues, addiction treatment may be more closely tailored to their needs, and that is exciting news indeed.

No one expects geneticists to pinpoint exact yes-or-no gene variations that will predict or diagnose addiction, but the knowledge genes can unlock may someday improve how addiction treatment therapies are designed and delivered. In other words, people should be able to receive addiction treatment services that are best-suited to their overall situation – including their genetic situation.

Genetic research continues to reinforce the accepted definition of addiction as being genetic, environmental, and behavioral in nature. The great news is that you do not have to wait for a genetic breakthrough to receive effective addiction treatment. Personalized, holistic addiction treatment exists right now, and the sooner you make the decision to seek help, the sooner you can be on the road to addiction recovery.

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