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Subjective Response to Alcohol Among Alcohol-Dependent Individuals: Effects of the Mu-Opioid Receptor (OPRM1) Gene and Alcoholism Severity


Reprint requests: Lara A. Ray, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, 1285 Franz Hall, Box 951563, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1563; Tel.: 301-794-5383; Fax: 310-206-5895; E-mail:



Subjective response to alcohol has been examined as a marker of alcoholism risk. The A118G single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) of the mu-opioid receptor (OPRM1) gene has been previously associated with subjective response to alcohol in heavy drinkers. This study seeks to extend the literature by examining the effect of OPRM1 genotype on responses to alcohol in a sample of alcohol-dependent individuals. A secondary aim of this study is to examine alcoholism severity as a predictor of subjective responses to alcohol.


Nontreatment seeking problem drinkers (= 295) were assessed in the laboratory for clinical dimensions of alcohol dependence. Following prospective genotyping, 43 alcohol-dependent individuals across the 2 genotype conditions (AA,= 23 and AG/GG,= 20) were randomized to 2 intravenous infusion sessions: 1 of alcohol (target breath alcohol concentration = 0.06 g/dl) and 1 of saline. Measures of subjective responses to alcohol were administered in both infusion sessions.


Alcohol-dependent G-allele carriers reported greater alcohol-induced stimulation, vigor, and positive mood, as compared to A-allele homozygotes. There was no genotype effect on alcohol-induced sedation or craving. There was a statistical trend-level severity × alcohol interaction such that individuals at higher levels of severity reported greater alcohol-induced tension reduction.


These results support the hypothesis that OPRM1 genotype moderates the hedonic effects of alcohol, but not the sedative and unpleasant effects of alcohol, in a sample of alcohol-dependent patients. Results are discussed in light of a clinical neuroscience framework to alcoholism.

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