Does This Gene Make You an Alcoholic?
Get ready for a lot of multisyllabic and confusing scientific words! All jokes aside, researchers from the Mayo Clinic have discovered new genetic markers that may signal a shift to new forms of alcoholism treatment.
Scientists from the Mayo Clinic recently published a study in the journal Translational Psychiatry. This groundbreaking paper links the allele (or alternate form of a gene) of the genetic variant rs2058878 to longer periods of sobriety for recovering alcoholics who are prescribed Campral.
Campral is a brand name of the popular alcohol and benzo treatment drug acamprosate.
Okay, that’s a lot to take it. I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around it and I’ve been researching this none stop for hours! Let’s see if we can break it down in simpler terms.
Is Alcoholism Genetic? Am I Doomed?
For the past couple of decades, it’s been an accepted fact that genetics plays a large role in determining if someone will be an alcoholic or not.
In fact, it’s now thought that someone’s genetic makeup is 50% responsible for whether they’ll end up in active alcoholism. The remaining 50% comes from environmental factors.
Alcoholism’s a delicate balance of nature vs. nurture. Following this logic, any treatment must also be a delicate balance of scientific solutions (medication, therapy, etc.) and environmental recovery (twelve-step fellowships, spirituality, etc.).
Does Campral Work?
For decades now, Campral has been a tremendous aid in the fight against alcoholism. It’s been prescribed in the United States for just over ten years, while the U.K. has used it since the late 80’s.
In numerous double blind studies, Campral has been shown to produce more days of abstinence than either placebos or no medication at all. It’s worth noting, though, that the average length of abstinence is between forty-five and fifty days. This is a far cry from the multiple years of abstinence that define long-term sobriety.
So, how does Campral work? Well, scientists aren’t exactly sure. They believe it works on the same neural pathways as alcohol or benzo’s. Campral isn’t suitable for those with impaired kidneys, as it’s primarily removed via the kidneys. Kidney damage, unfortunately, is a common side effect of alcoholism.
The New Gene that “Solves” Alcoholism
When combined with Campral, the allele of the genetic variant rs2058878 (located in the GRIN2B gene) leads to longer periods of sobriety. Okay, but what exactly does that mean?
Well, it means that those who suffer from alcoholism and posses an alternative form of the genetic variant rs2058878 and are treated with Campral are likely to have longer periods of sobriety than those who don’t meet this criteria.
Those are a lot of hoops to jump through! Even if someone desperately wants to get sober and seeks treatment, they may not have the necessary genetics to benefit from this new information.
So, does the allele of the genetic variant rs2058878 cure alcoholism? Nope, it doesn’t. What this new discovery does mean is that science continues to make strides in the fight against substance abuse.
Who knows what discoveries will occur over the next decade.