• By Ian Roth

Mayo Clinic Minute: How genetics factor into treating alcohol use disorder

December 26, 2018

Alcohol use disorder is the medical term for someone dealing with alcoholism. The medical community shifted to a broader definition of what constitutes alcohol use disorder in 2013. As more people are being diagnosed with it, health care providers are investigating whether genetic testing may lead to better treatment options.

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Roughly 3 in 10 Americans meet the criteria to be diagnosed with alcohol use disorder. And many of those people are related to others with similar problems.

"We know that people who have alcohol use disorder tend to have relatives with alcohol use disorder or relatives who are suffering from other substance use disorders," says Dr. Victor Karpyak, who oversees Addiction Services at Mayo Clinic.

Dr. Karpyak says about half of those with alcohol use disorder inherit it because of their genetics. But genetic markers also may help improve treatment of alcohol use disorder.

In addition to behavior modification, many people are able to overcome their alcohol use disorder with one of three approved drugs. Dr. Karpyak says new research in genetic factors is helping pinpoint which of those drugs each patient is most likely to respond well to.

"I'm trying to find the right tools, which will meet the need of the particular patient, and we work with together with the patient," Dr. Karpyak says. "And [we] give the patient a lead to guide us and show us which of the selected approaches are actually helpful."

So while there may never be a magic bullet to cure alcoholism, Dr. Karpyak says genetic research is making it easier for health care providers to give the most effective treatment possible to each patient.

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