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Gene Blamed for Alcohol Relapse

February 5, 2009

Alcoholics who have a hard time staying on the wagon might be able to chalk it up to their genes.

Working with colleagues in the U.S., Polish researchers have identified a genetic mutation they believe puts people at a greater risk for relapse after treatment for alcohol dependency.

The gene was found in a study involving 123 people taking part in addiction treatment programs in Poland. All were assessed for severity of alcohol use and other factors related to alcoholism, such as depression and impulsivity. They also underwent genetic testing to look at genes related to serotonin and dopamine, two components in the body known to affect addiction and behavior.

The participants were followed for about a year. Results showed those with a mutation in the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene were more likely to return to drinking during the follow up period. Found in the brain, BDNF is responsible for helping nerve cells survive and connect.

The authors believe this suggests addiction programs should be customized for people depending on their genetic makeup.

“These patients may have special difficulty in responding well to currently available treatments because of their biological makeup and therefore may need newly constructed intensive programs of therapy that are preferably individualized,” study author Marci Wojnar, associate professor of psychiatry at the Medical University of Warsaw and adjunct researcher at the University of Michigan, was quoted as saying. “This might be a step forward towards ‘personalized medicine.’”

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, published online February 3, 2009

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