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Substance Abuse and Treatment

Focusing on the Roots of Nicotine Addiction: The Genetic Aspects of Cigarette Smoking

As has been pointed out numerous times, there are some individuals who use alcohol, tobacco or other drugs of abuse and become substance abusers-continuing to drink, smoke or inject themselves with a drug(s) of abuse even though doing so causes them serious problems. Others are able to limit or avoid use of these harmful substances well before they become abusers or addicts. To clarify the role that genes play in predetermining those individuals who are more vulnerable to a substance of abuse, twin studies are a first step in exploring genetic and environmental factors which result in the development of dependence and addiction. If genes significantly influence the risk for abuse, identical (monozygotic) twins who share the same genes will tend to be alike (concordant) in their response to a particular agent of abuse. On the other hand, fraternal twin pairs who only have 50 percent of their genes in common will be less concordant. By comparing the degree of concordance in monozygotic as compared to dizygotic twin pairs, scientists can estimate the extent to which genes influence vulnerability to a specific drug of abuse.


Methoxsalen Decreases Desire to Smoke

In 1998, NIDA- supported research found a genetic variation that makes some people less likely to become addicted to nicotine than others. They also found that people with this gene who were addicted were likely to smoke fewer cigarettes and have an easier time quitting smoking. The researchers found a medication called Methoxsalen that mimics the effects of the above-mentioned genetic variation. Currently used in treatment for severe psoriasis, Methoxsalen works for smokers by "...partially blocking the body's ability to break down nicotine, significantly improving the effectiveness of oral nicotine replacement in reducing a smoker's urge for nicotine."


FactsheetSmoking Cessation

FactsheetFacts About Smoking During Pregnancy

Prenatal Exposure to Substances - Nicotine







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Physical Development

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The Maternal Substance Abuse and Child Development Study is under the direction of Claire D. Coles Ph.D., with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Emory University School of Medicine. For more information, please contact: Claire D. Coles: ; Karen K. Howell:

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