Pharmacogenetic treatments for drug addiction: alcohol and opiates

Am J Drug Alcohol Abuse. 2008;34(4):355-81. doi: 10.1080/00952990802122564.


Aims: Psychiatric pharmacogenetics involves the use of genetic tests that can predict the effectiveness of treatments for individual patients with mental illness such as drug dependence. This review aims to cover these developments in the pharmacotherapy of alcohol and opiates, two addictive drugs for which we have the majority of our FDA approved pharmacotherapies.

Methods: We conducted a literature review using Medline searching terms related to these two drugs and their pharmacotherapies crossed with related genetic studies.

Results: Alcohol's physiological and subjective effects are associated with enhanced beta-endorphin release. Naltrexone increases baseline beta-endorphin release blocking further release by alcohol. Naltrexone's action as an alcohol pharmacotherapy is facilitated by a putative functional single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the opioid mu receptor gene (Al18G) which alters receptor function. Patients with this SNP have significantly lower relapse rates to alcoholism when treated with naltrexone. Caucasians with various forms of the CYP2D6 enzyme results in a 'poor metabolizer' phenotype and appear to be protected from developing opioid dependence. Others with a "ultra-rapid metabolizer" phenotype do poorly on methadone maintenance and have frequent withdrawal symptoms. These patients can do well using buprenorphine because it is not significantly metabolized by CYP2D6.

Conclusions: Pharmacogenetics has great potential for improving treatment outcome as we identify gene variants that affect pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic factors. These mutations guide pharmacotherapeutic agent choice for optimum treatment of alcohol and opiate abuse and subsequent relapse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / diagnosis
  • Alcoholism / drug therapy*
  • Alcoholism / genetics*
  • Buprenorphine / pharmacology*
  • Buprenorphine / therapeutic use*
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP2D6 / drug effects
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP2D6 / genetics
  • Humans
  • Naltrexone / pharmacology*
  • Naltrexone / therapeutic use*
  • Narcotic Antagonists / pharmacology*
  • Narcotic Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / genetics*
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / drug effects
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide / genetics
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / drug effects
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / genetics
  • beta-Endorphin / blood
  • beta-Endorphin / drug effects


  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • OPRM1 protein, human
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu
  • Buprenorphine
  • Naltrexone
  • beta-Endorphin
  • Cytochrome P-450 CYP2D6