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Genetic links to abuse of substances discovered



Young people with a genetic predisposition to high risk-taking, low extraversion and schizophrenia are more likely to abuse substances, according to a University College London-led study.

The new findings, published in Addiction Biology, suggested specific vulnerabilities in personality types make young people more inclined to try multiple drugs or use them to self-medicate.

The researchers found prevention programmes designed for adolescents may benefit from focusing on these vulnerabilities to substances, such as cigarettes, alcohol and drugs.

The study involved 4,218 participants from the University of Bristol’s Children of the 90s cohort study, who were assessed at ages 17, 20, and 22 for genetically influenced mental health vulnerabilities and individual traits, alongside their use of alcohol, cigarettes, cannabis and other illicit substances.

The results highlighted several genetically influenced traits and vulnerabilities that link to multiple substance abuse, including risk taking, mental health issues and BMI.

Co-lead author Dr Tabea Schoeler, from UCL Department of Psychology and Language Sciences, said: ‘Treatment and prevention programmes that target risk-taking behaviours among young people, while also focusing on adolescents with early signs of schizophrenia, could be beneficial in reducing the risk of developing substance use problems.’

The researchers also found that analysed traits have different effects, depending on the substance. A genetic predisposition to high educational attainment predicted higher use of alcohol and other drugs, but lower use of cigarettes.

Her colleague and co-lead author Dr Eleonora Iob added: ‘Our evidence suggests that some predispositions make young individuals more likely to use specific substances. For example, we found that adolescents predisposed to high body mass index were more likely to smoke cigarettes.

‘As nicotine is known to suppress appetite, those individuals may smoke more in an attempt to control their appetite. This should be carefully considered when designing interventions for smoking cessation.’

The researchers believe the results of the study could influence the direction of future treatment programmes and decrease the risk of young people developing a clinical manifestation of a substance use disorder.

Senior author Dr Jean-Baptiste Pingault said: ‘Our findings support the ongoing development of prevention programmes that are tailored based on the psychological and personality profiles of adolescents.’