Pharmacogenetic Testing at Our Utah Rehab Center

Pharmacogenetic Testing


At Lion’s Gate Recovery, we understand that addiction recovery can be very difficult. The road to sobriety is long and full of potential obstacles. We strive to do whatever it takes to assure each patient receives the best treatment possible during their addiction recovery, whether it be from alcohol, marijuana, or opiate addiction.

Our Utah rehab center provides high-quality care using the latest methods and cutting edge medical techniques to assure each individual patient has every chance for success. One of the ways we do this is by offering pharmacogenetic testing to our patients at our rehabilitation center.

In many cases, patients with drug and alcohol addictions may be already on medications, or they may be prescribed medications to help in their recovery and prevent withdrawals. For example:

-Someone who may have been using marijuana to ease symptoms of depression may be put on antidepressants.

-Someone with an alcohol addiction may be prescribed medication for curbing cravings and easing withdrawal symptoms.

-Someone with a heroin addiction may be given medications such as methadone to help with the severe withdrawal symptoms they may experience.

However, not everyone reacts the same with medications. How a medication works in each person is dependent on a variety of factors which can be difficult, if not impossible, to determine before taking a medication. Some people may have mutations in their bodies that make certain medications too strong and potentially dangerous. Adverse reactions to medications are extremely common and in many cases, patients have to undergo a “trial and error” approach to finding what medication will work for them. This can lead to weeks or months of discomfort and even pain as they try to adjust.

Common adverse reactions to different medications:

-Headaches or migraines









-Joint and muscle pain



There are also cases in which people have experienced severe side effects from prescribed medications, including seizures, heart failure, and even death.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, some medications simply don’t work for certain people. They don’t have any reaction or feel any effect from the medication at all. Sometimes, a medication will work briefly, and then the effects die off after a few days. It’s important to know what will work for each individual patient to prevent potential problems and avoid putting them through needless additional suffering from adverse reactions to medication.

At our Utah rehab center, we use pharmacogenetic testing to reduce or completely eliminate these problems.

What is Pharmacogenetic Testing?

Pharmacogenetic testing is not a new field of study, although it has been gaining traction in recent years. First explored in the 1950’s, pharmacogenetic testing is a type of genetic variability testing that can help medical professionals create a more personally tailored approach to medication. This type of test can analyze each person’s individual genetic makeup to determine how they may metabolize specific medications and help avoid potentially dangerous reactions.

One small sample of blood or saliva from a patient can help determine:

-Whether or not a certain medication will be effective for them

-What dose of medication will work for them

-Whether or not they will experience serious side effects

This sort of testing is called pharmacogenetics or pharmacogenomics. Both terms describe the study of human genes and how they affect the body’s response to medications. “Pharmacogenomics” is a combination of the words pharmacology, which is the study of medications, and genomics, which is the study of genes.

Pharmacogenetic testing is quickly becoming more common in the world of medical care, especially in the psychology field, as it could save lives, as well as millions of dollars in healthcare costs from those who experience adverse reactions to medications. Although there are different pharmacogenomic tests for different medications, each person would only need to be tested once for each medication, since a person’s genetic makeup does not change over time.

Genetic Makeup and Drug Response

Drugs and medications are broken down and metabolized in the body, specifically in the liver. This process is done with the aid of various enzymes, which are proteins that are produced in cells. These proteins speed up the rate of biological reactions in the cells. However, not everyone has the same amount of enzymes, and sometimes these enzymes can experience mutations that make the metabolic process different for each person.

One of the primary mechanisms in the liver for metabolizing drugs are the cytochrome P-450 enzymes. The level of these enzymes controls the rate at which the liver metabolizes many drugs; however, the capacity is limited, so sometimes it causes difficulties in keeping up with high blood levels of certain drugs.

If the drug that is given decreases the ability of the enzymes to break them down, then the effects of the drug are increased (including the side effects); this can result in a drug accumulation, causing toxicity. If the drug increases the ability of the breakdown, then the opposite occurs, and the drug’s effects are decreased. For those people, blood levels never get high enough to be effective

Another liver enzyme, called N-acetyltransferase, works slowly in about half of the people in the United States. These people are referred to as “slow acetylators”. Certain drugs that are metabolized by this enzyme can accumulate and remain in a person’s body for a longer period of time for those slow acetylators than those who are fast acetylators.

Why Use Pharmacogenetic Testing for Addiction Rehabilitation?

People who are recovering from an addiction have a hard enough time struggling with withdrawal symptoms, as well as learning to change their lifestyle patterns. The last thing they want is to experience is a terrible reaction to a medication that is meant to help them in their transition to sobriety.

For example, those attempting to recover from alcoholism are commonly given medications to help with withdrawal symptoms. These medications include:




Naltrexene is the one that is most widely used. This drug works by blocking opioid receptors in the brain, which can help curb cravings, and also block the effects of intoxication in case a drink is consumed at some point during recovery.

However, a significantly high number of people experience little or no effects from this drug, or it will only work for a short period of time. One of the main reasons for this is because of a genetic mutation which inhibits the naltrexone from binding to mu-opioid receptors. This inhibition makes it difficult for the drug to take hold.

Many people that are in recovery are often prescribed medications such as antidepressants to help with underlying issues that may lead to addictions. Because mental illnesses are not caused by one specific thing, it can be difficult to know exactly what type of medication will work for one person. One person may have a serotonin imbalance and respond well to an antidepressant and another person may feel worse on the same medication.

There is also a wide variety of medications that can possibly be prescribed for mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar depression, and attention deficit disorder. Some medications can be used to treat multiple disorders, so it makes it even more difficult to know what will work.

For decades, treating mental illness with medications has been a “trial and error” approach. Some people end up going through a dozen different types of medication before finding one that works well with them. In fact, an estimated 4 out of 5 people will experience little or no relief of depressive symptoms with their first antidepressant prescription.

Most of the time, medication is prescribed after a quick doctor visit, in which a physician will determine if a patient meets a certain set of criteria. This, combined with the patient’s age, weight, and height, are the only guidelines used to prescribe medications. Sometimes these medications can end up worsening symptoms, especially in young adults; antidepressants can increase depression and thoughts of suicide. Pharmacogenetic testing is an ideal way to treat patients and alleviate symptoms without the guessing game.

How Pharmacogenetic Testing Works at Lion’s Gate

We work hand in hand with Integral Biotechnology, located here in Utah, to provide pharmacogenetic testing to our patients. The test is conducted by a member of our treatment team, and is simple as taking a saliva specimen by doing a quick swab inside the mouth. We then send the sample to the laboratory for analysis. Within three days, you will receive a complete report that provides medication specific pharmacogenetic results.

The overall goal here with pharmacogenetic testing is to ensure that you are getting the right medication at the right dosage. This will ensure that your recovery process goes smoothly and is as comfortable as possible for you. This type of testing and treatment helps Lion’s Gate Recovery rehab center move beyond the “trial and error” approach to medication and help our patients feel secure in their choice to choose us for their rehabilitation needs.