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Asian Alcoholics Most Likely to Get Significant Benefit from Naltrexone

posted 09:33 AM EST, Mon October 03, 2011

Researchers at UCLA say that about 50% of Asians have a genetic variation that makes naltrexone especially effective as a treatment for alcoholism.

Naltrexone is a medication that influences dopamine messaging in the brain. When used as an addiction or alcoholism treatment medication it is intended to reduce cravings for drugs or alcohol and also to make the use of drugs and alcohol less pleasant, and thus less reinforcing and likely to be repeated.

However, it doesn’t work for everyone.

Researchers at UCLA say that if you’re of Asian descent though, it’s very likely to work for you.


About 50% of people of Asian descent have a genetic variation at the OPRM1 gene – belonging to the AG or GG types for this gene expression and people with a AG or GG OPRM1 genes have significantly better results when using naltrexone as an addiction treatment medication.

By contrast, only 20% of Caucasians and 5% of African Americans have AG or GG OPRM1 genotypes.

In an experiment which tested naltrexone’s influence on people of different OPRM1 genotypes, a group of heavy drinking Asians was invited to drink alcohol in a laboratory setting, once after taking naltrexone and once after taking a placebo pill. The researchers found that those with AG or GG genotypes experienced greater sedation much less pleasure after mixing naltrexone and alcohol than participants with AA genotypes.

Since people with AG and GG Genotypes experience more sleepiness and less pleasure after drinking while on naltrexone they are less likely to want to repeat a drinking experience than others who experienced no such adverse reactions.

The full study results can be found in Neuropsychopharmacology

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Story Highlights
  • Naltrexone: Works best for people of Asian descent
  • Gene Expression: Asians are more likely to have a variant of the OPRM1 gene which improves the efficacy of naltrexone
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