Historically, things began to change in the United States in 1914, when the Harrison Anti-Narcotic Act brought opiates and cocaine under federal control. This placed physicians as the gatekeepers for legal access to these drugs. In 1935, a U.S. Public Health Prison Hospital opened in Lexington, Kentucky; a second facility opened in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1938. These two facilities were the sites of the first federal research programs in addiction treatment.
Addiction research programs are now heavily involved in searching for genetic clues that will help explain the causes of addiction and provide effective solutions for treatment. This is encouraging news indeed if you are battling addictions.
Epidemiological studies have established that 40 percent to 60 percent of the risk for alcoholism is genetic. Similar rates of risk have been established for other drugs such as opiates and cocaine. It is therefore very important that a person with a family history of addictions avoid additional risk factors that encourage addictions.
It has been noted for a long time that addictions tend to run in families. In fact, children with alcoholic parents are four times more likely to become alcoholics than children of nonalcoholic parents. What exactly does that mean? Essentially, a genetic predisposition for addictions means that you metabolize drugs or alcohol differently than individuals without genetic tendencies. This is similar to the way cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other diseases run in families.
Researchers have identified several large chromosomal regions that are likely involved in addictions. As you can imagine, the addictive process is quite complicated, and this certainly presents a significant problem in identifying specific genes related to addictions. In spite of the complexities, forward strides are being made.
Because of the moral and ethical problems of conducting genetic research in humans, laboratory mice and rats are bred to respond to drugs of abuse. The mechanism of genetic factors in addictions are then studied in the animal models before applying the research to humans.
Recent research has suggested that chromosome 17 is involved in addictions. It has been proposed that chromosome 6 may be involved in opiate addiction. It seems that the AGS3 gene in an area of the forebrain called the nucleus accumbens is likely involved in heroin addiction.
The truth is, any single gene may produce a very small effect on the body's ability to develop an addiction and therefore be difficult to detect. More and more it seems that there are many genes associated with addictions.