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New Ohio Study Aims to Answer: Is Addiction Genetic?

Last Updated: November 10, 2022

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Is addiction genetic? We know in the general sense that if someone in your family does drugs or abuses alcohol, you may be more likely to as well, but that only tells a very small portion of the story. Ohio researchers have launched a large-scale study that will identify specific genetic markers linked to addiction, and it could tell us more about the genetic components of addiction.

$1.6M Study Launched Into Genetic Markers & Addiction

Researchers will be looking for genetic markers that separate people who are likely to develop an opioid addiction from those people that are seemingly immune to the addictive properties of pain medications. The study is being led by Attorney General Dave Yost, who oversees scientists at the Bureau of Criminal Investigations. It’s expected to take around 18 months to do the research.

The research will look at the model of the relationship between genetic markers and addiction, starting by studying patient swabs collected in emergency rooms at the University of Cincinnati and Ohio State University Hospitals. Yost, during a news conference announcing the study, said it’s not about how well you handle things and what that role plays in addiction. It’s about chemistry, and the research will build upon what we already know as far as the genetic components of addiction.

Swabs will be collected from different groups. These groups will include people never exposed to opioids, people exposed who never developed an opioid use disorder, and people exposed to opioids currently on a recurrent basis who never developed the disorder. Swabs of people with current opioid use disorders will also be studied.

Is Addiction Genetic?

We do know that addiction is linked to genetics, but we don’t know the specific genes that play a role. Researchers in Ohio hope to look at why two people can take the same drug at the same dosage, but only one becomes addicted. The goal is to stifle the harmful effects of opioids by gaining a better understanding of these mechanisms.

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, family studies show that as much as half of a person’s risk of becoming addicted to substances depends on genetic makeup. Of course, researchers do also believe other factors play a role as well and in a particular environment.

There are complex relationships between genetics and the environment when it comes to the likelihood someone will become addicted to substances. For example, genetics can play a role in how someone interacts or responds to their environment, potentially putting them at a greater risk of developing the disease of addiction.

Using Science to Reduce Opiate Addiction Cases

Ohio is on the frontlines of the opioid epidemic, with 4,854 unintentional deadly overdoses in the state in 2017. There are also a number of court cases going on involving different organizations in Ohio. For example, many areas of Ohio are involved in national opioid litigation involving thousands of cities that want to hold the pharmaceutical industry responsible for the opioid epidemic.

Through research like what was recently announced, the hope is to reduce the rates of opiate addiction and overdose deaths in the state and nationwide. The team behind the research hopes that science will be a way to start to bring down the number of people who become addicted to opiates every year and that some progress will be made as a result. By looking at the way genes may interact with opioids, it may be possible to prescribe opioids more safely or, when necessary, find alternatives to them.

Opiate Addiction Risk Factors

Beyond genetics, other risk factors that lead someone to become addicted to opiates or make it more likely include:

  • Early first use of drugs or alcohol
  • Social alienation or isolation
  • Having neglectful or uninvolved parents or parents who don’t set and enforce clear boundaries
  • Transitions at home such as divorce or remarriage
  • Drug availability
  • Early antisocial behaviors, such as early signs of aggression
  • Having a sibling who uses drugs or alcohol
  • Mental illness including ADHD, anxiety or depression
  • How the body metabolizes substances—people with a higher tolerance may be more likely to become addicted
  • Gender—men are twice as likely as women to have substance use disorders


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