Twenty million Americans struggle with alcohol abuse.
Another 65 million report recent episodes of binge drinking.
Eighty-eight thousand U.S. citizens die annually from the effects of alcoholism.
Roughly eight percent of those with alcohol abuse syndrome seek treatment – and of those, only 20% receive medication-assisted treatment.
Why is that?
Part of the reason lies in the fact that not everyone responds to the meds used.
New research suggests that a personalized approach to medication-assisted treatment might significantly improve outcomes – and simple genetic tests may be a key to making this fully personalized approach a reality.
Researchers at the Charleston Alcohol Research Center report in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research that conducting simple genetic tests to identify variations in three brain genes allows physicians to predict which patients with alcohol use disorder will benefit from the addiction drug naltrexone.
Research leader Raymond Anton, M.D., reports that "alcohol dependence is a brain disease known to affect certain brain chemicals… so, it's important to use treatment methods that address not only the behavioral but also the biological/brain components of the problem."
Naltrexone targets a single protein in the brain called the mu-opioid receptor. When activated either by naturally occurring or externally introduced opioid-like chemicals, the mu-opioid receptor signals that a positive experience has occurred.
It's known that alcohol consumption causes the release of natural opiates in the brain that activate this mu-opioid receptor.
Naltrexone works by blocking this receptor, preventing the sense of pleasure and reward produced by alcohol, thus reducing the cravings.
So why the gene test?
The research team discovered that slight variations in the gene that produces the mu-opioid receptor also affect how strongly the receptor is activated in response to alcohol.
And that wasn't all.
They also discovered that two dopamine-processing genes can have variations that result in variances in the strength of the reward signaling produced by alcohol.
Anton and his team found that only patients with specific gene variations showed a consistent reduction in alcohol consumption when taking naltrexone.
"To benefit most from naltrexone, you have to have the gene variations that predict you'll be low in one brain chemical response -dopamine or mu-opioid -and high in the other," Anton explained.
What's it all mean?
These findings suggest that genetic testing before beginning treatment may help clinicians identify which patients will benefit most from naltrexone. For those naltrexone will not help, other medications may be an option.
If you are struggling with an addiction to drugs and/or alcohol and need help in Connecticut, New Hampshire, eastern Massachusetts, Florida, or Southern Maine, the recovery teams at Aware Recovery Care are here to help. Our unique model of care is giving clients a significantly better chance of recovery when compared to traditional inpatient rehab care. To learn more or to talk to one of our Recovery Specialists, please fill out the contact form or call 1-844-AWARERC.