By PT Staff, published on May 1, 1992 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015
If addiction is inscribed in our DNA then the vulnerability genes
can be isolated and screening tests developed to see who has them.
Current treatment for alcoholism and other addictions focuses almost
exclusively on mending lives -- after the damage is done. On the rare
occasions when the subject of prevention comes up it's only after the
"A genetic screen would shift the focus of treatment to prevention
and education," says Dr. Markku Linnoila scientific director of the
National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Those with
vulnerability genes could be taught how to avoid addiction problems
before they arise.
Isolating genetic markers for alcoholism may also pave the way for
new drug therepies. "It may be possible to design medical strategies to
reverse some of the effects of the [defective] gene," surmises Linnoila.
Currently there is no drug therapy for alcoholics except Antabuse, a
nausea-inducing agent given to chronic abusers to discourage them from
But genetic screening could have Orwellian side effects in the
absence of proper confidentiality. Labeling people as alcoholics before
they've touched a drop is a potentially dangerous practice warns
Linnoila. "Any genetic marker must show an overwhelming risk for
developing the I disease to make intervention a real option."
After all, Linnoila adds, "nobody is born an alcoholic."