Can Personalized Medicine Prevent Addiction?

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Personalized medicine may be the answer to our problems, but we should know what we’re being offered. (funnyangel/Shutterstock)

Personalized medicine may be the answer to our problems, but we should know what we’re being offered. (funnyangel/Shutterstock)

The Human Genome Project, launched in 1990, endeavored to map all genes in human DNA in order to determine their function. To this day, no biological project of its scale has existed. When the Human Genome Project wrapped in 2003, researchers began working to discover how their findings might benefit human beings everywhere. Their decision to sequence numerous variations of each gene might prove to be one of the more beneficial decisions as far as addicts and alcoholics are concerned. Why? Because personalized medicine might be just the thing we need to treat and prevent chronic substance abuse disorders.

First of all, it’s worth noting that DNA mapping gives us the ability to look for certain genetic markers. Upon identifying markers related to addiction, medical professionals can identify the best forms of treatment and prevention. Not all people respond to the same medications in the same ways. A drug that works wonders for one patient might have little to no effect on another. There are also concerns of side effects, which seem to affect some people more drastically than usual. Genetic mapping might hold the key to preventing these issues. And personalized medicine could be the primary tool to figure out the best possible treatment plan.

Here at Amethyst Recovery, we already delight in offering personalized care to each and every one of our patients. But if further research on personalized medicine might improve this goal even further, we support it wholeheartedly. Not only can precision medicine inform a patient’s medication-assisted treatment, but genetic mapping might help inform the best therapeutic approach as well. We’ll discuss both sides of the coin in further detail below.

The Specifics of Personalized Medicine

Genetic mapping is the key to personalized medicine. (Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock)

Genetic mapping is the key to personalized medicine. (Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock)

An article on The Fix lists many examples of potential benefits to personalized medicine. For instance, Chantix is most commonly known as an anti-smoking drug. But researchers believe that it might benefit alcoholics as well. If they can find enough genetic markers to prove this hypothesis conclusively, those with certain genes might be able to stave off two addictions at once. They’ve also performed research showing associations between spicy food and naltrexone. So if you’re the type of person who sprinkles hot sauce on every meal, Vivitrol might be more likely to keep you away from alcohol and opiates. It’s a strange connection, but an interesting one nonetheless.

Continued research on personalized medicine might reveal even more surprising genetic associations. Vivitrol is far from the only anti-addiction medication on the market. Think of drugs such as Antabuse, Wellbutrin, Topamax, and Suboxone. These drugs all possess different properties and different chemical structures. The genetic markers indicating their utility for one patient likely differ greatly. This could explain why some people say they work wonders, while others say they don’t do a thing. And don’t forget that methadone and heroin were originally used in detox and opioid replacement therapy. In some places, doctors still use heroin for this purpose. Perhaps we can find out why these treatments work for some addicts while others become more addicted.

In fact, this could be one of the greatest aspects of genetic mapping. The thought that a person might become addicted to their anti-addiction drug is legitimately frightening. But frankly, the thought of addiction itself should stir up some fears as well. Genetic mapping potentially gives us the power to find out who might become an addict. With enough research, medical professionals might even discover genetic markers indicating a potential drug of choice. If genetic mapping were to become commonplace, prevention plans for potential addicts and alcoholics would be much easier to formulate.

As it turns out, genetic mapping may even help us with co-occurring disorders. Few people manage to fight addiction by taking anti-depressants alone. The Fix notes that, likewise, few manage to fight off depression solely by taking anti-addiction drugs. But if genetic markers indicate a correlation between two medications, then prescriptive medicine might help anyone who suffers from both simultaneously. Furthermore, prescriptive medicine might even inform the dosage or frequency of the medication prescribed. This indicates that genetic mapping might help anyone suffering from mental disorders, even those completely unrelated to addiction.

Genetic Mapping and Support Groups

Some people might get more out of support groups than others. (SpeedKingz/Shutterstock)

Some people might get more out of support groups than others. (SpeedKingz/Shutterstock)

Personalized medicine relates to support groups in some interesting ways. At the end of the day, some people just won’t get as much out of them as others. Some of us do better on our own, while a majority may do better when interacting with others. We aren’t saying that the first group shouldn’t give 12-step programs a shot. These programs are a big part of our treatment, as we find them to work most of the time. But as it turns out, only some people will respond to them effectively. It’s interesting to think that genetic mapping might tell us which people respond the best.

The Fix notes that many who turn away from support groups utilize two similar fallacies. First is selective attention. Those who don’t think they belong will pay attention to any story that doesn’t mesh with their own. This leads to the second fallacy—confirmation bias. We allow ourselves to confirm any story that fits our bias regarding the treatment of others. If support groups didn’t work for them, then support groups must be useless. We can’t justify this objectively, but we don’t need to do so. As long as it sounds objective, we feel comfortable with our outlook on the situation.

We have many reasons to join support groups, although some may be more geared toward one-on-one therapy. The question is, do we opt for cognitive behavioral therapy (the new way) or basic family therapy (the old way)? This decision might not prove so easy. But if we can allow genetic mapping to make this decision for us, then it might not be so hard. Naturally, this would require a bit more research in order to tell which genes inform something such as a person’s response to therapy. But given the amazingly intriguing results already produced by genetic mapping, further research is definitely worth pursuing.

The choice of whether or not to join a support group obviously can’t be made through genetic mapping alone. No matter what your genes tell you about your personality, it’s ultimately your decision what form of care you choose to seek. But we would encourage you to give therapy and support groups some serious consideration. We especially encourage you to seek these forms of help if you’re not taking any form of personalized medicine. Because far too many people already know that precision meds exist, yet refuse to take advantage of them.

Why Some May Still Resist Treatment

Some say “no” to personalized medicine. But why is that? (ChristianChan/Shutterstock)

Some say “no” to personalized medicine. But why is that? (ChristianChan/Shutterstock)

Even with the above evidence, some prefer to think that they don’t need personalized medicine. They believe that, if they give in to this trend, then they are essentially proclaiming themselves to be weak people. Such people view medication of any kind as a crutch. And they’re right. The thing they have wrong is their belief that crutches are always bad. In this case, we’re talking about a crutch that might help you stay sober. That’s not really the sort of crutch that you need to avoid.

The crutch we should avoid is medication to which we may become addicted. As noted, this sometimes happens with treatment drugs such as methadone. Many people avoid anti-addiction medication out of fear that this may happen to them. But personalized medicine actually helps ensure that this won’t happen. If our genes show that we’re more inclined to become addicted to certain medications, we can simply avoid them. This is a wonderful opportunity that was not available to addicts and alcoholics prior to the Human Genome Project.

Some also turn down the opportunity to embrace personalized medicine or support groups because they feel they can recover on their own willpower. The Fix points out that it’s somewhat disrespectful to say otherwise. That said, people don’t recover in isolation. If we spend too much time on our own, it’s easy to get trapped in our own thinking. We need interaction with others so that we can bounce things off of them and see how we’re really doing. As for medication, this too is your choice. But if your genetics show you to be a particularly viable candidate, it might be worth trying. It might just help you speed up your recovery a bit.

Life won’t always be easy. Even with genetic mapping, there are some aspects of our being that we may need to figure out for ourselves. But as long as we have the willingness to try, we are on the right track. At the end of the day, no one can achieve perfection. The best we can do is to improve in the areas we identify as lacking. By doing so, we open ourselves up to untold wonders. Personalized medicine provides one way in which to do this. If it has the potential to benefit us, we must not look the other way. Support personalized medicine today.

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