Talbot Goes Purple

Genetics likely play a key role in a person’s chances of developing a substance use disorder, with gene therapy treatments potentially available in the future.

Studies on addictive behaviors started in the 1930s, when people thought someone with a drug use disorder was morally flawed. Scientists soon determined, however, that people with an addiction didn’t just lack willpower; rather, they can’t control the use of a drug. Further studies since have concluded that addiction, or substance use disorder, is a psychiatric disease attributable to both biological and environmental factors.

Environmental factors include things like peer pressure, parental monitoring and accessibility, and play a role in someone’s initial decision to drink or use other drugs. Biological factors include genes, stage of development and gender/ethnicity. While environmental factors play a large role in a person initiating use, biological factors largely determine what happens next.

These biological factors help explain why one person may develop a substance use disorder while someone else, with the same use, may not. As with other diseases and disorders, the likelihood of developing a drug use disorder differs from person to person. While genetics play a key role, there are many risk factors that increase a person’s vulnerability. Protective factors, on the other hand, reduce a person’s risk.

Scientists have isolated a specific dopamine receptor, called D2, that may play a role in predicting a person developing a dependency upon alcohol, cocaine or heroin. Brain imaging suggests that people with fewer of those D2 receptors are more likely to develop a problem than those with many receptors. And, how many D2 receptors a person has is in part genetically determined.

Studies also have identified a common gene mutation linked to substance use disorders. This mutation occurs in a gene that controls the breakdown of a brain’s natural cannabinoids. This work is preliminary but suggests a correlation between this mutated gene and illegal drug use. Scientists continue research with new findings, including yet another alteration in a gene called FYN among heroin users.

Most recently, scientists have started investigating genetic engineering as potential treatment for several diseases, including substance use disorder. Specifically, this engineering could involve gene editing opioid receptors, protecting a patient from opioid overdose by knocking out the receptors for good. Without the receptors, a person couldn’t die from an overdose. Opioid use disorder, however, would persist.

As research on the brain continues, parents with a history of family substance abuse can discuss these risks with their children. Parents also can work on enhancing protective factors, like close parental monitoring, setting clear expectations and staying involved in your children’s lives.

Talbot Goes Purple is an educational and awareness prevention program that empowers our youth and our community to “Go Purple” as a sign of taking a stand against substance abuse. The purpose of the program is to promote the “new conversation” – one that includes prescription drugs, alcohol, marijuana and e-cigarettes. TGP focuses on educating students about the dangers of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs, and works toward preventing kids from beginning to use these substances in the first place.

An initiative from the Talbot County Sheriff’s Office and Tidewater Rotary, in partnership with Talbot County Public Schools, Saints Peter & Paul School and the Mid-Shore Community Foundation, Talbot Goes Purple empowers our youth and our community to “Go Purple” as a sign of taking a stand against substance abuse.

More information about Talbot Goes Purple is available at www.talbotgoespurple.org. Find us on Facebook @TalbotGoesPurple or contact us at talbotgoespurple@gmail.com.

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