Every day, we are bombarded with countless advertisements for alcohol celebrating its social or sexual appeal, prescription drugs are issued indiscriminately to subdue our pain, and other drugs are the staple of parties. Thus, it comes as no surprise that addiction is a national epidemic in the United States.
While social substance use might be fun for many people, its detrimental effects are fit for a dramatic Afterschool Special for those who experience the dire consequences of dependence on the substance.
It’s A Social Disease
Once thought to be merely a social disease, it is now understood as a chronic disorder linked to genetics, mental illness, and environmental triggers. This understanding of biological predispositions has invited breakthroughs in modern substance abuse treatment.
Addiction has been linked to a combination of genetic factors, including mental health, and environmental triggers that can initiate the onset of addiction. Latest research has helped destigmatize addiction to an extent, however, gene-directed diagnosis and treatment are just making headway.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and subsidiaries of the peer-to-peer support group were a major breakthrough in the 1930s. For the first time, addiction was seen as more than “bad behavior” as addicts merged community and faith with science. Henceforth, this style of treatment has become the “gold standard” of treatment in clinics, prisons, hospitals, and community centers.
However, this 12-step model of addiction has been criticized for its “faith-based” approach, cult-like qualities, and personal character shaming tactics. Groups like “The Orange Papers” and countless others seek to find alternatives to this “treatment standard.”
Now, science has come up with genetic and epigenetic heritability factors in addiction. Addiction is seen just like any other disease coded in a person’s DNA like diabetes or sickle cell. Thus, researchers are looking toward treatments that integrate genetic information into treatment.
Gene Therapy – The Next Standard of Treatments
Researchers believe that treatment modalities tailored to a patient’s genetic makeup could contribute to long-term recovery. Discoveries in gene therapy and pharmacogenetic testing in preparation for medical interventions could be the next standard of treatment.
Thanks to advances in science, a simple cheek swab can reveal gene variants associated with addiction. And genetics can be altered to prevent and fight addiction. Doctors can deactivate genes linked to addiction, introduce genes that fight the addiction, or replace mutated genes.
As “Blade Runner” as this sounds, no one is talking about robotizing humans here. A small alteration to one’s genetic code can be a life-saving intervention.
When 40%-60% of addiction is associated with genetics, it’s worth considering.
As it stands now, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a handful of gene therapies. However, gene therapy for addiction is still in its infancy.
Comprehensive medical assessments beyond the family history and medical history survey could provide new clues for treating clinicians that can help them solve their unique addiction puzzle. They can then tailor treatment specifically for the individual.
Recognizing the predeterminate factors in families with a history of addiction is the first step in the next wave of treatment approaches.