Neuroscience of resilience and vulnerability for addiction medicine: From genes to behavior

Associated faculty or student(s): Publication Date:
Monday, November 23, 2015

Addiction is a complex behavioral disorder arising from roughly equal contributions of genetic and environmental factors. Behavioral traits such as novelty-seeking, impulsivity, and cue-reactivity have been associated with vulnerability to addiction. These traits, at least in part, arise from individual variation in functional neural systems, such as increased striatal dopaminergic activity and decreased prefrontal cortical control over subcortical emotional and motivational responses. With a few exceptions, genetic studies have largely failed to consistently identify specific alleles that affect addiction liability. This may be due to the multifactorial nature of addiction, with different genes becoming more significant in certain environments or in certain subsets of the population. Epigenetic mechanisms may also be an important source of risk. Adolescence is a particularly critical time period in the development of addiction, and environmental factors at this stage of life can have a large influence on whether inherited risk factors are actually translated into addictive behaviors. Knowledge of how individual differences affect addiction liability at the level of genes, neural systems, behavioral traits, and sociodevelopmental trajectories can help to inform and improve clinical practice.

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