New research reveals that changes in our DNA during drug withdrawal may offer promising ways of developing more effective treatments for cocaine addicts. One of the biggest challenges for a user trying to quit is the high rate of relapse after periods of abstinence and strong withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal from drug use can reprogram genes in the brain that lead to an addictive personality, according to a new study from McGill University and Bar Ilan University published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Moshe Szyf, a professor in the Faculty of Medicine at McGill said: “We inherit our genes from our parents and these genes remain fixed throughout our life and are passed on to our children; we can do very little to change the adverse genetics changes that we inherit.”

He added: “In contrast, epigenetic marks such as DNA methylation act as switches and dimmers of genes – they can be switched on, off, or dimmed – by epigenetic drugs inhibiting DNA methylation and removing methyl marks from these genes.”

The researchers wanted to see if they could stop addictive behaviour by influencing the epigenetic markers that were triggered by withdrawal using epigenetic drugs, in this particular case the DNA methylation inhibitor ‘RG108’ was used.

Send in the Rats

As with many scientific studies, the theory was tested on rats, using an incubation method for cocaine craving, where they were trained to consume cocaine when cued by a specific light or sound. Their addictive behaviour was tested after either a day or 30 days of withdrawal from cocaine.

After the greater duration of withdrawal, the rats developed an intense drug seeking behaviour when exposed to the cue and it was after a lengthy period without the drugs that the epigenetic changes were most evident.

Professor Szyf said: “We discovered that injecting the drug RG108 just before the animals were exposed to the light cue after the long withdrawal not only stopped the addictive behaviour of the animals, it also lasted for a longer period. This suggests that a single treatment with RG108 could reverse or perhaps cure drug addiction.”

Treatment of Withdrawal

Co-author of the study Gal Yadid, of Bar Irlan University suggested that the period of withdrawal is key and that this research may point to new forms of treatment for addictions among humans that are more appropriate than the current methods. He said: “Surprisingly, we discovered that the biggest changes in DNA methylation occurred not during the exposure to the drug but during withdrawal. During this period, hundreds of genes changed their state of DNA methylation including genes that were known before to be involved in addiction.”

He added: “The mainstay of current approaches to treating addiction might actually aggravate [addiction]. Our research suggests that because the changes in addiction involve numerous genes, our current approaches will continue to fail if we target one or a few targets in the brain, but more research is needed to confirm if these new avenues hold promise.”

As AlphaBiolabs specialise in both DNA testing and Drugs & Alcohol testing we find it fascinating that DNA can play such a large part in addictive behaviours towards drugs and that it may also hold the key to treating withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

If you feel as though you or someone close to you may be addicted to drugs and would benefit from Drug Testing or if you require DNA testing then please contact our friendly support team on 0333 600 1300 or