Have you ever wondered why some people can try drugs and decide it is not for them, while others get snared in a web of addiction? Why are some families more prone to addiction than others?
Researchers say that specific genetic factors may play a role, varying from person to person. A new and recent rat study shed some light on this topic. Of course, humans are not rats, but some further information can help us understand inherited traits and how addiction changes the brain.
It is in the DNA
The study was recently published in the 'Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,' and it was a medical school team of the University of Michigan that put in the elbow grease.
It was the first time scientists discovered that the tendency to get addicted is linked to variations in genes in specific brain regions. As a result, it is now possible to identify a DNA tag to predict if a person is more 'addiction-prone' and, therefore, also inclined to relapse.
Researchers gave rats cocaine and looked at their brains for genetic instructions as the drug traveled to the relevant ‘pleasure receptor,' called D2. They found that some rats had lower D2 instructions, to begin with, and were more prone to addiction. These rats carried a specific mark on their DNA called ‘H3K9me3’, which kept their brain cells from reading the gene for the D2 receptors.
The research also found that addiction-resilient rats have a different brain molecule called FGF2 and a DNA marker that kept them from reading FGF2. As a result, it protects them from getting addicted.
All of this might be hard to understand, but in essence, the researchers say that the rats can’t help it. They were born with a DNA marker that makes them more disposed to become addicted or not.
But wait, there’s more.
Rat A and Rat B
A tale of two breeds
In another study, two types of rat breeds were used. The one breed, let’s call them Type A, were bred to explore and to seek novelty. Type B does not and was often anxious when presented with new situations.
Researchers trained all the rats to find cocaine at certain places, poke with their noses to get it and expect the drug to be available when a specific light shone.
All the rats took the drug, but there was a remarkable difference in how often the different breeds sought out cocaine daily.
Type A rats kept seeking even if the drug was not available and were more likely to start looking when the light came on even after weeks without cocaine. This is similar to what recovering addicts report: their cravings return when they see drug paraphyllia or return to places where they once got or took drugs.
This study again shows that the propensity to seek drugs involves genes and a host of them at that. The rats can’t help it.
There is a switch
Research such as this homes in on the biology of addiction, also in humans. Addiction has biological roots and origins as part of genes that are inherited and amplified by taking drugs.
Knowing this, treatment options and even public policy around drugs and users can get better and more advanced. Already broad-based genotyping uncovers more genes that contribute to the different sides of addiction and drug abuse.
Perhaps it would be possible soon to know through a DNA test at birth if a child would be more predisposed to addiction. Then, prevention strategies can start early so that parents or psychologists can stop substance use disorders before they even begin.
In the meantime – just know this: there is a switch in all our brains. Some can put it on and off without a problem, but for others, the controller can be broken and get you addicted.
Perhaps it is time to start teaching our children this – especially if there is a history of addiction in the family.