Analyzing the genome (complete DNA) of over 1 million people, researchers find specific locations and patterns within the DNA that are inherited across individuals with varying substance use disorders. Scientists discovered 19 specific regions of variation (referred to as single-nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs) that were associated with general addiction risk and 47 SNPs for specific substance use disorder risk in a sample of 1,025,550 individuals of European ancestry. The patterns identified also correlated with regulation of dopamine signaling and with mental and physical conditions associated with substance use such as suicidal behaviors, heart disease, chronic airway obstruction, and chronic pain. Scientists also analyzed the genome of 92,630 individuals of African ancestry finding one SNP associated with general addiction risk and one SNP for alcohol use disorder.

The researchers also analyzed the relationship between general addiction risk and familial medical diagnoses and behavioral traits on over 4,000 children aged 9 to 10 years from the Adolescent Brain and Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. They found that the SNPs associated with general addiction risk were correlated with parental substance use problems, family history of hospitalization for mental health conditions, and externalizing behaviors, despite these children not having any prior substance use. These findings underscore the genetic connection between substance use and mental and physical health, provide hope for individualized prevention and treatment interventions, and highlight the urgency for inclusion of diverse populations in research.

If you are interested in learning more about genetics and substance use, we encourage you to listen to a fascinating conversation Drug Free America Foundation recently had with Dr. Evelyn Higgins, founder of Wired for Addiction, in our Pathways2Prevention podcast. Listen here.


  • Hatoum, A.S., Colbert, S.M.C., Johnson, E.C. et al.Multivariate genome-wide association meta-analysis of over 1 million subjects identifies loci underlying multiple substance use disorders.  Mental Health 1, 210–223 (2023).
  • 2023, March 22. New NIH study reveals shared genetic markers underlying substance use disorders. Retrieved from on 2023, March 27