Research on the genomic correlates to addiction raises ethical issues in a number of different domains. In this paper, we evaluate the status of genetic research on alcohol dependence as background to addressing the ethical issues raised in conducting research on addiction and the application of that research to the formulation of public policies. We conclude that genetic testing is not yet ready for use in the prediction of alcohol dependence liability. Pharmacogenetic testing for responses to treatments may have more clinical utility, although additional research is required to demonstrate utility and cost-effectiveness. Genetic research on addiction raises potential risks for participants that must be clearly communicated to participants, including limitations on the ability of researchers to protect their privacy. Responsible communication of research findings is essential to prevent common misunderstandings about the role of genetics in addiction liability, to prevent its premature or inappropriate use, and to reduce discrimination and stigmatization experienced by addicted individuals. More research is needed to determine the impact of genetic explanations on addicted individuals, treatment-seeking behavior, and on public attitudes towards addicted persons. Importantly, genetic research on addiction must not be at the expense of investments in social, behavioral, and psychological research on addiction.


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pp. 1-22
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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