Epigenetics of drug abuse: predisposition or response

Pharmacogenomics. 2012 Jul;13(10):1149-60. doi: 10.2217/pgs.12.94.


Drug addiction continues to be a serious medical and social problem. Vulnerability to develop an addiction to drugs is dependent on genetic, environmental, social and biological factors. In particular, the interactions of environmental and genetic factors indicate the significance of epigenetic mechanisms, which have been found to occur in response to illicit drug use or as underlying factors in chronic substance abuse and relapse. Epigenetics is defined as the heritable and possibly reversible modifications in gene expression that do not involve alterations in the DNA sequence. This review discusses the various types of epigenetic modifications and their relevance to drug addiction to elucidate whether epigenetics is a predisposing factor, or a response to, developing an addiction to drugs of abuse.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Behavior, Addictive / genetics
  • Chromatin Assembly and Disassembly / drug effects
  • Cocaine / administration & dosage*
  • DNA Methylation / drug effects
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Heroin / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu / genetics
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins / genetics
  • Substance-Related Disorders / genetics*


  • OPRM1 protein, human
  • Receptors, Opioid, mu
  • SLC6A4 protein, human
  • Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Heroin
  • Cocaine