Scientists just made a wild discovery: Addiction has genetic markers.
A cure for addiction might be found using, of all things, cocaine and rats.
Any elementary schooler who's completed a D.A.R.E. program can tell you about the dangers of addiction.
Far more difficult to explain, however, is how addiction can be passed from generation to generation.
We sometimes use labels like "addictive personality" for people who are born with what seems like a tendency toward addiction ... but do we know exactly which parts of the brain these addictive tendencies stem from? And if we did, would we then be able to prevent addiction before it ever became an issue?
Thanks to an all-star team of researchers, the answer to both of these questions seems to be "yes."
Researchers think we might be able to prevent addiction before it starts.
How did they come to this conclusion? With rats. Cocaine-addicted rats.
Researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of Alabama at Birmingham published a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal in April 2016, claiming that they found certain genetic differences in rats who are susceptible to addiction.
According to the study's lead author, Shelly B. Flagel, addiction can be linked to two basic genes: fibroblast growth factor and dopamine D2 receptor.
“If [the rats] have certain low versus high levels of one of these molecules, then they can be a candidate for treatment to prevent addiction in the first place. Or, if we know that they’re an addict, to prevent relapse," said Flagel to Inverse.
As dreadful as it may sound, humans and rats are almost identical on a genetic level.
So even though this link was only found in rats, there's a strong chance that the link could be present in humans too.
The Human Genome Project explains that "the rat genome contains about the same number of genes as the human genome ... and almost all human genes known to be associated with diseases have counterparts in the rat genome and appear highly conserved through mammalian evolution, confirming that the rat is an excellent model for many areas of medical research."
Once we know for sure what these "addiction genes" look like in rats, eventually we might be able to identify those genes in humans.
Someday, we might even be able to identify these "addiction precursors" in humans with something as simple as a blood or saliva test.
Basically, this research on cocaine-addicted rats could help us prevent addiction in humans before it becomes an issue.
“That’s one benefit of this study — that we were able to look at essentially genetically similar animals, and say, this is what their brains look like before they’ve been exposed to cocaine, and then this is what they look like after they’ve gone through this prolonged self-administration paradigm and develop or exhibit these addiction-like behaviors,” said Flagel.
“It’s just providing further evidence that this is clearly a key molecule."
So in the fight to stop addiction, it seems that a useful resource is...
Oh, the irony. Science is truly an amazing, confusing, wonderful thing.