Can Personalized Medicine Improve Treatment for Addiction?

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Can Personalized Medicine Improve Treatment for Addiction?

Personalized medicine is also known as “precision medicine“. The concept was borne of the aftermath of the Human Genome Project (2003). Now that it is possible to determine a person’s DNA, scientists are searching for genetic markers associated with addiction.

According to Wikipedia, precision medicine is:

“…a medical model that proposes the customization of healthcare with medical decisions…being tailored to the individual patient…diagnostic testing is often employed for selecting appropriate and optimal therapies based on the context of a patient’s genetic content or other molecular or cellular analysis. Tools employed…include molecular diagnostics…”

In an ideal world, someday a genetic profile might be able to illicit a warning to patients. That is, one may be able to stave off risk factors for certain diseases, and medication and/or lifestyle choices may be more individually tailored to prevent mental illness or substance abuse.

Personalized medicine is more than just customized medication, however. It could give mental and physical healthcare providers additional tools to offer patients. It’s about treating the whole person, genetic profile and all.

Simply put, standardized treatment is intended to work for most of the people most of the time. However, unique individual characteristics require unique corresponding strategies to be most effective. This is not simple nor always feasible without precision medicine.

Truthfully, people with substance abuse issues most often avoid treatment. There are a several reasons for this: one, there is a stigma involved. Two, in the U.S., good treatment is not easily available, and can be expensive. Three, people are placed into pat categories of addicts, and those without financial means are treated to the lowest available, standardized care. In fact, sometimes they are forced into it.

What is missing is the intermediate component of treatment versus individualism – not all persons respond favorably to any or all treatments, and yet, many persons do better with specific types of treatment. Moreover, medication is good for some, group support is good for some, and therapy and/or counseling is good for some. For many, all of the above are beneficial. Also for many, some of these treatments just don’t yield great results.

A Quick Analogy

I akin it to throwing darts against a dartboard. The more skilled you are, and the more you throw, the more “bulls-eyes” you will get. But you’ll never get them all. Sometimes, they will far just outside of hitting the mark. Other times, you might miss the board altogether.

Imagine now that every patient is a customized board, a little bit different from all others. This is the obstacle that professionals face without personalized medicine.

The bottom line is this: genetic markers can tell health professionals a lot of information, including what medications are best suited for a genetic profile, as well as what other therapies are most likely to garner success.

For example, there are a host of medications which can reduce substance cravings, but they will not all work for every person. These include naltrexone, topamax, and antabuse. With genetic markers, application of these drugs has the potential to be much more successful than just trial and error.

Commentary

No addict is the same, and no patient is the same. Therefore, treatment should be tailored to the individual, in as much detail as one can stand.

Personalized, or precision medicine will likely change the landscape of addiction medicine very soon, much more than it already has. It hold greats promise for new approaches, and more efficient means of identifying treatments that will work effectively for each individual.

~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology

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