The Addiction + Behavior, also known as Genetic Addiction Risk Score (GARS) is the innovation of Dr. Kenneth Blum. The science derives from the early ground-breaking findings of Dr. Kenneth Blum and Dr. Ernest P. Noble (former director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism). The research was published in JAMA (1990), discussing the first association of the dopamine D2 receptor gene and severe alcoholism. This was the first-ever confirmed gene in the field of Psychiatric Genetics.
In the brain, dopamine functions as a neurotransmitter—a chemical released by neurons (nerve cells) to send signals to other nerve cells. The brain includes several distinct dopamine pathways, one of which plays a major role in the motivational component of reward-motivated behavior.
We all need dopamine as human beings because it controls emotional responses and mediates how we experience stress, pleasure, reward, joy, and contentment. Mood, sleep, concentration, motor skills, and memory are all affected by dopamine. When a person does not get enough dopamine, they will do things to stimulate the brain to produce more such as smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, gambling, online gaming, and more.
At the time there was not a term for a person having an inefficiency in dopamine production, so Dr. Blum coined the term REWARD DEFICIENCY SYNDROME (RDS). RDS is now a recognized disorder and listed in the Sage Encyclopaedia of Abnormal and Clinical Psychology.
When the exact amount of dopamine required is compromised or potentially reduced, then the individual cannot deal with typical everyday events and finds unnatural ways to obtain a “dopamine fix” leading to all types of addictive behaviors.
All of these substance and non-substance behaviors have one thing in common: they cause dopamine to be released at the reward site of the brain. In essence, the absence of dopamine will cause a person to seek out anything that will fix the low dopamine function. The individual finds resolve by self-medicating to overcome “hypodopaminergia” (low levels of dopamine). Initially,, this seems beneficial, but over time both substance and non-substance addictive behaviors attack the reward centers of the brain locking people into unwanted dependence.
Through Dr. Blum’s continued research into the relationship of genetics and addictive behavior risk, he quickly realized a single gene could not determine a person’s risk toward addictive behavior. You would need information from multiple genes to formulate a more precise comprehension.
GARS helps identify the various genes tied to the normal release of dopamine via the BRC and pinpoints any variation of these essential reward genes. GARS is based on the primary genes identified in the BRC and subsequent variations (alleles) or polymorphisms (a single nucleotide switch – SNPS).
Certain genes potentially impact how well an individual can control or moderate the desire for alcohol, drugs, and even food. Approximately half (50%) of your overall risk for addiction is genetic. The reward pathway, underlying addiction, is well-documented and shared between many species. Often, genes relevant to addiction were first identified using animal models, and then counterpart genes were confirmed in humans. After decades of research, neuroscientists now understand the natural sequence variation within each gene, underpinning how the brain reward cascade can contribute to a person’s unique total addiction risk. Certain known genetic variations (termed “risk variations”) are now clearly linked to an increased risk of developing addictive behaviors.
Scientific evidence suggests that your sum-total genetic risk for Reward Deficiency Syndrome (RDS) directly correlates to how many of these addiction risk variations you carry. Substantial neuroscience research links drug use and related disorders with specific genes and genetic variants; alcohol, heroin, opioids, cocaine, nicotine, and narcotic abuse. These, along with other addictive behaviors like overeating, gambling, online gaming, and aberrant sexual activity, all share some common genetic foundations.
The GARS test provides three different sections of information:
1. GARS Score
The GARS score is based on a scale of 0 – 22 and identifies a person’s overall score as it pertains to RDS. After dozens and dozens of clinical trials, the data shows that a majority of people tested (over 85%) fall between a GARS score of 3 – 10.
A GARS score and its predictive relationship with ASI-MV (alcohol severity index score is based on data from a large multi-addiction center study involving seven diverse treatment programs. A person with a GARS score of 4 or higher has a high-risk association with drugs, and if the person has a seven or more, they also have a high risk for alcohol abuse (et al. 2017).
A question that gets asked often…. why is the GARS score for addictive risk so much higher with alcohol than drugs?
The simple answer is that alcohol has been part of humankind for centuries, and genetic variants have been passed down from generation to generation. Even in our environment today, alcohol is everywhere, airports, hotels, restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores. It is intertwined throughout our environment. Thus, the genetic risk association through GARS is higher.
Drugs, on the other hand, have not been as mainstream throughout history. Even today, illegal drugs are considered taboo in most societies around the world. The genetic variants associated are not as common as alcohol; thus, it carries a lower sensitivity risk.
2. Identification of Genetic Variants
The second section of the GARS test shows the individual’s genetic variants of the ten genes tested. Later in the report, the Description, Function, and Clinical Impact of each gene will be explained.
3. Breakdown of RDS behaviors
The final section of the report stratifies the different substance and non-substance behaviors for the individual based on the genetic variants uncovered in the GARS test.
*A person’s GARS score does not correlate with behaviors. Behaviors are based on the actual genetic variants of each individual. For example, two people can have the same GARS score, but different outcomes on the behavior risk because they could have different genetic variants.
Pro-Dopamine Regulator Therapy
Dr. Blum continued his research by studying the possibility of supplementing these genetic variants to allow a person to have more regulated dopamine production. This led to the development of KB220Z or what is commercially known as restoreGen.
restoreGen is a patented all-natural neuro-nutrient technology that re-balances brain chemistry. Balancing brain chemistry can reduce craving behaviors, increase focus, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve overall well-being. There are six formulations tailored to your DNA. Each formula is based on genetic variants determined by the GARS® test (which are different for everyone). Each formulation is customized to supplement dopamine function within the brain reward cascade site of the brain.
The six formulations:
Chemical messengers and neurotransmitters like endorphin, serotonin, GABA, and dopamine work together in a cascade. The brain reward cascade forms patterns of stimulation or inhibition that generate the specific effects involved in producing feelings of well-being and reward.
As mentioned, the GARS test identifies genetic variations that can cause a deficiency or imbalance and interrupt the reward function of the cascade. This can lead to:
Genetic anomalies, long-term stress, long-term substance use or repeated, compulsive and impulsive behaviors, can cause reward deficiency and lead to a self-sustaining pattern of abnormal craving.
An unprecedented 41 published clinical studies have validated this neuro-nutrient technology in effectively re-balancing brain chemistry and optimizing dopamine sensitivity leading to:
In this section of the GARS test, a recommendation for one of the six different restoreGen formulations will be identified.
The recommendation is not based on the GARS score. It is based on different genetic variants that have been identified by the GARS test.
The most IMPORTANT and most VALUABLE feature of the GARS test…the results are NOT definitive. Some people scratch their head and ask, “what’s the point then?” When it comes to genetics and addictive behavior risks, genetics only make up 50% of the equation. A person’s environment and circumstance make up the other half. For example, the GARS test may identify an individual with a high risk for nicotine addiction, however, if that person never smokes or chews tobacco, the addictive tendency will not be triggered.
Substance and non-substance behaviors categorized as HIGH risk, have a higher probability of being triggered than if they were at MODERATE or LOW risk. This is NOT to say, a substance or non-substance behavior listed as MODERATE or LOW risk is not a concern. It is still possible to develop an addiction to a substance or non-substance behavior listed as MODERATE or LOW risk. The GARS test associates the level of risk for these substance or non-substance behaviors based on the genetics variants presented by the individual.
If a person is to have surgery, opioids are commonly used for pain management. If a person knows they are at high risk for opioid abuse, they can provide this information to the doctor. Having this knowledge means the doctor can make a more informed decision on the most optimal and safest way to manage a patient’s pain.
Think of it as a GPS for life. Once you understand the risks and hazards out there, you can make lifestyle changes to live a healthier life. This is the ultimate value of the GARS test.