Send to

Choose Destination
Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2019 Jul;43(7):1519-1527. doi: 10.1111/acer.14079. Epub 2019 May 31.

Early-Life Adversity and Blunted Stress Reactivity as Predictors of Alcohol and Drug use in Persons With COMT (rs4680) Val158Met Genotypes.

Author information

VA Medical Center, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Donald W. Reynolds Department of Geriatric Medicine, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Cognitive Science Research Center, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma.
Department of Psychiatry, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, Arkansas.
Laboratory of Neurogenetics, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, NIH, Bethesda, Maryland.



Risk for alcoholism may be enhanced by exposure to early-life adversity (ELA) in persons with genetic vulnerabilities. We examined ELA in the presence of a common variant of the gene for the enzyme catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT, Val158Met, rs4680) in relation to cortisol reactivity, the onset of early drinking, and experimentation with drugs.


Saliva cortisol reactivity to speech and mental arithmetic stress was measured in 480 healthy young adults (23.5 years of age, 50% females) who experienced either 0, 1, or ≥ 2 forms of ELA during childhood and adolescence, provided information on use of alcohol and recreational drugs, and were genotyped for the Val158Met polymorphism.


ELA led to progressively smaller cortisol responses in the Met/Met and Val/Met allele groups but to progressively larger responses in Val homozygotes, F = 3.29, p = 0.011. ELA independently predicted earlier age at first drink, F = 14.2, p < 0.0001, with a larger effect in Met-allele carriers, F = 13.95, p < 0.00001, and a smaller effect in Val homozygotes, F = 4.14, p = 0.02. Similar effects were seen in recreational drug use. Cortisol reactivity was unrelated to drinking behavior or drug experimentation.


ELA leads to blunted stress reactivity and, independently, contributes to potentially risky drinking and drug-use behaviors in persons carrying 1 or 2 copies of the COMT 158Met allele. The results reinforce the impact of early experience on the stress axis and on risky behaviors, and they point to the 158Met allele as conveying a vulnerability to the early environment.


Catechol-O-Methyltransferase; Cortisol; Dopamine; Drinking Behavior; Early-Life Adversity; Genotype; Stress

[Available on 2020-07-01]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Wiley
Loading ...
Support Center