Recent research has shown significant changes in our understanding of how addictions develop in humans. Individuals with a genetic variant for a neurotransmitter gene are at an increased risk of addiction to alcohol and other substances if exposed to stressors early in childhood.
Researchers at the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine I've been working with the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to understand the correlation between genes and addictions. They focused on the variant for the gene that gives rise to the enzyme catechol-o-methyltransferase (COMT). This enzyme manages various neurotransmitters, including dopamine, within the body. Individuals in the study ranged from ages 18-30 years old with a history of adversity in early childhood. These individuals showed lower activity for the COMT variant, leaving them more vulnerable to consuming alcohol and other substances.
This study was fascinating for two main reasons. It establishes the relationship between our genetics and how it can expose us to different medical conditions later in life. Furthermore, this study shows how the environment plays a role in activating genes or causing variances due to stressors present early in life.