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Important Break Through in Understanding Alcohol and Genetics?

June 22, 2018

I have always been skeptical of primary genetic addiction models.  The idea that disorders such as alcoholism was driven by gene actions was simply not supported by the existing research base.  Much of the research had been conducted on animal behavior studies, and it was apparent to anyone reading this primary research that it was not easily applicable to human behavior.  Most animal shunned alcohol when given a free choice and so environments had to be so highly artificially engineered to get an animal to take alcohol that it was nonsensical to apply it to human behavior.  And, what was more surprising, is that it is relatively easy to cure a rat of an alcohol problem.  Without replicable, consistent and more naturalistic studies, the idea was simply not viable scientifically.  And furthermore, it had not led to the development of any significant treatment for alcohol related problems.

 

So the recent study by Heilig on genetics and alcohol caught my eye precisely because its starting point was the poverty of progress in this field.  The variation and problems in findings made Heilig re-think these studies.  And this has led to a striking breakthrough in understanding gene actions and alcoholism.  To read a review of the study by the Atlantic click here.

 

Problems do remain.  As the mechanisms identified by Heilig can only be treated through the use of medications that also have huge potential to cause dependency issues.  This includes benzos or - the drug that no one knows what do with-Baclofen. (I think it has been trialed as a treatment with every dependency known to science with little benefit).  I do retain some skepticism.  Whether a more effective medication could be developed for alcoholism that side steps these problems is unclear.  Plus, other substances interact with other areas in the brain suggesting this is not a universal mechanism.  But i thought it was an intersting study that emerged from embracing the doubt.

 

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