A Clinical Trial for Predisposition to Addiction
Joan has written about Dr. Kenneth Blum’s work in the addiction field previously on the Malibu Beach Recovery Center blog. She said that in 1990, he and a colleague found the first official link between genetics and addiction. Now the researcher has developed an assessment tool for determining a person’s predisposition to addiction called GARS, which is short for Genetic Addiction Risk Score.
Malibu Beach Recovery Center has been chosen as one of 10 treatment centers to participate in a GARS study, funded by Dominion Diagnostics. The study has two components. Researchers at the University of Colorado (Boulder) Institute of Behavioral Genetics will be evaluating the efficacy of the GARS test. Inflexxion, a Massachusetts-based leader in creating scientifically validated soluti ons for critical areas of health care, will correlates test results with the Addiction Severeity Index.
GARS, patented in 2005, is designed to test 9 genes and 10 alleles (genetic variants). It can show predisposition to all reward deficiency syndromes from alcohol and drugs to smoking, sugar craving, high risk sex, gambling, and ADHD. A simple saliva sample is all that is required.
“People that tend to have a high risk for drug or alcohol abuse or other addictive behaviors have a hypodopaminergic state or trait,” Dr. Blum said. “For instance, if they were born with a certain gene, the dopamine D2 receptor gene, and if they carry the A1 variant, they have 30 to 40% fewer D2 receptors than other people. Even if the dopamine is released normally, it doesn’t find receptors.”
In other words, they are born with low dopamine function/s, and one of the ways the brain tries to boost the reward sensation is by self medicating (abusing one or more of the substances or behaviors available to them). In turn, that gives them a pseudo-feeling of well-being and they become addicted.
The test is significant for several reasons. Besides identifying people at high risk for addiction, as Dr. Blum says, it could alert addiction professionals that people with one or more of the reward deficiency genes should be watched more closely for relapse. Pain management and other doctors could give a GARS test before deciding whether or not to prescribe narcotics, benzodiazapines and barbituates.
Joan has pointed out other benefits. If you know that you, and thus your children carry the gene, you could start educating them earlier about the dangers.
On the other hand, if you want a job as a UPS driver, they might not hire you if they know you’re predisposed to addiction. So far the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008, known as GINA, safeguards an individual’s genetic information. Just recently an MBRC client who works for Fedex was notified to provide Fedex with all of her treatment records — except the results of any genetic testing because it is prohibited by GINA.
Joan Borsten contributed to this story