Addiction and Epigenetic Implications

Updated: Dec 9, 2020

I like to consider myself a scientist, even though my bachelor’s and Master’s in Science were both in what most scientists would call “soft sciences”. I am, however fascinated with the biology of the brain and the epigenetic expression of addiction. I am sure that genetic therapy is the new frontier for addiction medicine as I am seeing more and more research and researchers speaking out on this topic.


Gone will be the days of shaming and blaming persons with addiction and what will take its place is empirical, peer-reviewed research. I predict that within the next ten years we will be using more genetic editing, biofeedback, meditative and nurturing approaches to addiction medicine as we learn that changing the environment, which includes the physical and emotional body of the patient, will replace abstinence-only treatment.

If alcohol dependence was solved by abstaining or controlling use, we wouldn’t have the serious social consumption problem we have today. Not being able to control i.e., impulsivity, instills a sense of shame and insecurity, feelings of failure, and unworthiness. Impulsivity has been the biggest instigator for relapse and it’s time we address the phenomenon scientifically.


When the Genome Project was initiated, there was little know about why some genes were expressed in a family member while others it was not. Turns out, it didn’t take as long as expected to completely map the human genetic code, and the scientist came to a conclusion that there must be some other component that was interacting with the genetic code and they set off to discover it. What they found was a whole new arena of genetic activity in the body which is a step above the basic blueprint of our DNA, it is called epigenetics. In a 2012 study, Neurogenetics and Epigenetics in Impulsive Behaviour: Impact on Reward Circuitry, by Trevor Archer, Marlene Oscar-Berman, Kenneth Blum, and Mark Gold, discuss how addiction is expressed at the epigenetic level.


The following is a quick look of the findings on Alcoholism in the paper:

"It has been shown that high levels of impulsiveness/impulse control problems seem to elevate vulnerability for development of alcohol dependence, as well as being predictive for poor outcome measures. Jakubczyk et al. [206] have presented results indicating a significant association between high levels of behavioral impulsivity and the C/C genotype, linked to reductions in 5HT2A receptors in the CNS, of rs6313 in a group of 304 alcohol-dependent patients. Other important reports concerning reward gene polymorphisms and alcoholism add to the large scientific knowledge of gene-by-environment implications for both prevention and treatment targets [194, 207–209].[1]"


To summarize, impulsiveness is an indicator for alcohol dependence and these scientists have been able to pinpoint its exact gene and gene expression in the central nervous system. This is exciting news because with further research we may one day be able to treat alcoholism genetically and the potential outcome is almost too good to believe!


This is important and life changing for people who are alcoholics, or if someone you love struggles with addiction. When we use science to explain human behavioral phenomenon, we can have greater impact on the collective world populations. We can focus on a more compassionate, understanding, and empathetic view of addiction. A view that promotes self-care, worthiness, and unconditional positive regard. Shaming, blaming, superstitious and magical thinking are no longer valid ways to address addiction. We can evolve and with the new frontier of epigenetics and genetic editing we will.


[1] Trevor Archer, Marlene Oscar-Berman, Kenneth Blum, and Mark Gold. 2012 Neurogenetics and Epigenetics in Impulsive Behaviour: Impact on Reward Circuitry. P18. www.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23264884/.

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