Identical Drugs Work Differently Depending on Genetic Makeup
The same drugs work differently depending on one’s genetic makeup.
For example, in a study conducted by Dr. Nora Volkow of the Brookhaven National Laboratory, Ritalin, a stimulant which causes dopamine to spike, was given to two groups. The first group consisted of people who were born with a mutation to a gene that lowers the number of dopamine receptors in the Reward System, making that system less excitable. Though they weren’t drug abusers, their Reward System was similar to those who develop tolerance from drug abuse. The second group didn’t have the mutation.
“And lo and behold, the people with low levels of dopamine receptors in their brains were the ones who liked the way Ritalin made them feel,” Dr. Volkow said. “Those who had high concentrations of receptors in their brains said the Ritalin made them feel very unpleasant. They felt like they were losing control. One almost had a panic attack.”1 (For more click on Genetics and the Dopamine D2 Gene)
Research also shows that people with a naturally high tolerance to alcohol are more likely to become addicted to it. For example, researchers at the University of California in San Diego conducted an experiment involving 400 men in their 20s, all of whom had alcoholic fathers. They were given alcohol and tested for tolerance. Ten years later they were interviewed and 60% of the men with high tolerance had become alcoholics.2
Conversely, approximately 40% of Asians carry genes that hasten alcohol’s metabolism by as much as 200 times, overwhelming the body’s ability to cope with the toxic byproducts, and causing significant discomfort after consuming even small amounts of alcohol. This predisposition has also been discovered outside of Asia,3 and in about half of Jews.4 People with this genetic characteristic have a very low risk of alcoholism.
For more click on Dopamine Genes and Addiction Predisposition.
Click here to return to the Questions About Addiction Menu.
1. What’s the Lure of the Edge? The Answer Is All In Their Heads, New York Times, June 20, 2005.
2. A Serious Buzz; San Francisco Magazine, Oct. 2000.
3. A Form of the Alcohol Dehydrogenase Gene May Protect Afro-Trinidadians From Developing Alcoholism; medicalnewstoday.com, Jan. 30, 2007.
4. A Few Too Many, The New Yorker, May 26, 2008.
5. Genetics and Alcohol Consumption; medicalnewstoday.com, May 19, 2007.