Genetic testing is not yet ready for use in the prediction of alcohol dependence, according to a recent ethical guidance.1

“The guidelines had a dual focus,” says lead author Audrey R. Chapman, PhD, a Healey professor of medical ethics and humanities at UConn Health in Farmington, CT.

The authors set out to:

• identify the ethical issues and requirements related to carrying out genetic research on addiction;

• specify the ethical, legal, and public policy implications of the interpretation, translation, and application of this research.

“There is a need to guard against genetic research being misunderstood and misused,” says Chapman. The goal is to contribute to more ethically sensitive research and more socially responsible policies. For example, the potential for stigmatization carries implications not just for the individual but also family members.

“Yet there has been little literature exploring the ethical requirements of this research and its implications for public policy,” says Chapman.

A better understanding of the genetic contributions to addiction could lead to more effective treatment. This could lead to the development of drugs with fewer adverse side effects. There also is the hope that genotyping could better match patients to existing pharmacological treatments for addiction. “These hopes have fueled medical investments in this field of research,” says Chapman.

The ethical guidelines identify the limitations of this paradigm. “Alcohol dependence is a complex, multifactorial polygenic disorder,” notes Chapman. Evidence suggests it is unlikely that one or even a small number of genes will be identified that explain all the variance in its heritability. “Hopefully, the guidelines will help shape future research on the genetic dimensions of alcohol dependence,” Chapman says.


1. Chapman AR, Carter A, Kaplan JM, et al. Ethical guidelines for genetic research on alcohol addiction and its applications. Kennedy Inst Ethics J. 2018; 28:1-22.


• Audrey R. Chapman, PhD, Healey Professor of Medical Ethics and Humanities, UConn Health, Farmington, CT. Email: