The Roles of Genes and Environment in Social Work and Addiction

Saturday, January 17, 2015: 8:00 AM-9:45 AM
Balconies L, Fourth Floor (New Orleans Marriott)
Cluster: Substance Misuse and Addictive Behaviors
Symposium Organizer:
Karen G. Chartier, PhD, MSW, Virginia Commonwealth University
Margaret M. Murray, PhD, MSW, National Institutes of Health
Addictive behaviors are understood to involve multiple determinants, including but not limited to genetics. Social work’s guiding principle of 'person-in-environment' provides a unique perspective for understanding how genes interact with environmental contexts to increase or reduce risks for disorders (NASW, 2003). Based on this perspective, social worker researchers are well suited to conduct genetics research in multidisciplinary teams.

This symposium includes three studies that explore the roles of genes and the environment in contributing to substance use in adolescents and emerging adults. They range from a focus on the environment to a study using twin data and to analyses of specific genetic markers.

The 1st study, "Child Maltreatment and Alcohol Use in Emerging Adulthood" examines the question of how early exposure to toxic stress such as child abuse and neglect leads to later development of problematic drinking behaviors by exploring the potential mediating roles of psychological stress and delinquent/criminal behavior. We focus here on child maltreatment (and stress) because of its key role in depression and alcohol gene-by-environment studies as a modifying environment of genetic vulnerability (Chartier et al., 2013).

Study 2, "Examining the Heritability of Tobacco and Alcohol Use among a Sample of Adolescent Twins" expands our focus on genetics. It examines the degree to which genetic factors or shared environmental factors influence alcohol and tobacco use during adolescence. Twin modeling assumes that twins are raised in a shared environment, and compares the degree of similarity for a behavior (e.g., alcohol use or tobacco use) between monozygotic and dizygotic twins to provide an estimate of genetic influence (Hesselbrock, Hesselbrock, and Chartier, 2012).

Study 3, "Social Activities, Genetic Influences, and Drinking in First-year College Students" examines specific genes related to alcohol metabolism (e.g., ADH1B and ADH4) and student involvement in social activities previously associated with alcohol use in college students. We test gene-by-environment interaction models (Dick and Kendler, 2012) to better understand how the impact of these genes on drinking and alcohol dependence problems depends on student involvement in risky social activities for drinking.

Epidemiologic data highlight adolescence and emerging adulthood as critical periods for substance use initiation and misuse, and are, therefore, important periods for research. A better understanding of the genetic and environmental mechanisms that promote or inhibit substance use in these groups has implications for both personalized and community-level prevention and interventions. A discussion of findings will utilize a development framework, and identify potential roles and contributions for social workers to genetics research.

Chartier, K.G., Scott, D.M., Wall, T.L., et al. (2014). Framing Ethnic Variations in Alcohol Outcomes from Biological Pathways to Neighborhood Context. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, doi: 10.1111/acer.12304.

Dick, D.M. & Kendler, K.S. (2012). The Impact of Gene-environment Interaction on Alcohol Use Disorders. Alcohol Research: Current Reviews, 34(3), 318-24.

Hesselbrock, M.N., Hesselbrock, V.M., & Chartier, K.G. (2012). Genetics of Alcohol Dependence and Social Work Research: Do They Mix? Social Work in Public Health, 28(3-4), 178-193.

National Association of Social Workers. (2003). NASW Standards for Integrating Genetics in Social Work Practice. Retrieved from http://www.socialworkers.org/practice/standards/GeneticsStdFinal4112003.pdf

* noted as presenting author
Child Maltreatment and Alcohol Use in Emerging Adulthood: The Potential Mediating Roles of Psychological Stress and Delinquent/Criminal Behavior
Sunny H. Shin, MSW, PhD, Virginia Commonwealth University; Sae-Mi Jeon, MA, Boston University; Martin Teicher, MD/PhD, Harvard Medical School
Examining the Heritability of Tobacco and Alcohol Use Among a Sample of Adolescent Twins
Cristina B. Bares, PhD, MSW, Virginia Commonwealth University; Hermine Maes, PhD, Virginia Commonwealth University; Kenneth S. Kendler, MD, Virginia Commonwealth University
Social Activities, Genetic Influences, and Drinking in First-Year College Students
Karen G. Chartier, PhD, MSW, Virginia Commonwealth University; Mary B. Stebbins, MSW, Virginia Commonwealth University; Amy E. Adkins, PhD, Virginia Commonwealth University; Danielle M. Dick, PhD, Virginia Commonwealth University
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