Activity 3: Genetics and substance use disorders

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We know that about 50% of the risk associated with substance use disorders is determined by our genes. However, the relationship is complex. Genes modulate our response to the environment, our responses to drugs, and the neuroplactisity of the brain. Again, depending on your professional background and interest, the focus of your learning may be to understand broad concepts or take this opportunity to explore gene variants and genomics in more depth.


  1. Prior to starting this activity, write down your thoughts about how genetics play a role in substance use disorders. You are probably well aware of the clustering of substance use disorders in some families. How do you currently explain this–is it a nature or nurture argument? Or does a relationship exist between the two? Do you think it is likely that one gene is the “addiction” gene?
  2. Read Chapter 5 of your textbook: “Genetics of Substance Use Disorders” by D. Hasin, M. Hatzenbuehler, and R. Waxman.
  3. Now, what do you think about the role of genetics in substance use disorders?
  4. Find someone with which to share (teach) this information. This might be a colleague at work, someone you have connected with on the discussion boards of this course, a friend, or fellow student from another class. To present this to a friend, you may want to make some key notes to yourself. However, the exercise of verbally sharing with, or teaching, someone else will clarify and cement the learning for you.
  5. If you want more detailed (molecular biology-based) discussion on the genomics of substance use disorders, have a look at: