Alexander S. Hatoum. PhD Research Assistant Professor Institute for Behavioral Genetics Washington University in St. Louis

Genetic Analysis Shows Common Vulnerability to Addiction Tendencies Interview with:

Alexander S. Hatoum. PhDResearch Assistant Professor Institute for Behavioral Genetics Washington University in St. Louis

Dr. Hatoum

Alexander S. Hatoum, PhD

Research Assistant Professor
Institute for Behavioral Genetics
Washington University in St. Louis What is the background for this study?

Response: It is well known that someone with one substance use disorder will have another sometime in their lifetime or concurrently.  Further, individuals that do manifest two or more substance use disorders in their lifetime have the most morbid conditions. However, research often ignores the comorbidity and focuses on diagnosis of one substance use disorder at a time (i.e. opioid use disorder or alcohol use disorder). We set out to identify the biology behind the cross-substance liability. What are the main findings?

Response:  We found that there is a common underlying biological vulnerability, regardless of the substance the individual uses. We call this vulnerability “the addiction risk factor” to denote that the vulnerability is not tied to a particular drug but “addiction” more generally.  Using the pattern from our genetic analysis of over 1 million individuals, we discovered some of the molecular processes that drive these processes. Using a data-driven pipeline we propose ways to target the addiction risk factor for novel treatments. We also found that vulnerability to certain substances also has their own genetic risk (i.e. there are genes that convey vulnerability specifically to opioids or tobacco). Current treatments mechanisms tend to focus on those specific vulnerabilities, while emerging treatments proposed here will likely target the general vulnerability. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: That there is a common molecular vulnerability that influences addiction, regardless of the substance being used by the patient. This general addiction risk needs to be a more prominent area of addiction treatment research. What recommendations do you have for future research as a results of this study?

Response: This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the molecular processes underlying data. Larger and particularly more diverse samples are needed to further identify the molecular processes of addiction. Future waves of the study will look at sex differences and risk across more diverse global populations.  

Disclosures: From the paper: H.R.K. is a member of advisory boards for Dicerna Pharmaceuticals, Sophrosyne Pharmaceuticals and Enthion Pharmaceuticals; a consultant to Sobrera Pharmaceuticals; and a member of the American Society of Clinical Psychopharmacology’s Alcohol Clinical Trials Initiative, which was supported in the last three years by Alkermes, Dicerna, Ethypharm, Lundbeck, Mitsubishi and Otsuka. H.R.K. and J.G. hold US Patent 10900,082: ‘Genotype-guided dosing of opioid agonists’ issued on 26 January 2021.

Also, since the study has been published, I have applied for a provisional patent with some of the medications from the study.


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. Nat. Mental Health 1, 210–223 (2023).

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Last Updated on March 29, 2023 by Marie Benz