Genes, Addiction, & Personality (GAP) Study

SHE RECOVERS® is proud to share our support and recruitment effort for VCU’s “The Genes, Addiction, and Personality” (GAP) study. As a person in long term recovery who also just happens to be a (former) researcher with a PhD in Health Care Policy, studies such as this are very close to my heart.

Dawn Nickel, PhD

SHE RECOVERS® recognizes that there are multiple pathways and patchworks of recovery. We believe it is of utmost importance for initiatives like the “Genes, Addiction, and Personality“ study to reach a diverse population of recovering individuals so that we may gain a greater understanding of the contributing factors of substance use disorders. When we know better we do better. We hope that with the outcomes provided by the GAP study we may gain the necessary insight needed to create the best possible recovery solutions for future generations.

It is our hope to contribute to this effort by ensuring that the SHE RECOVERS community can, if interested, participate in the “Genes, Addiction, and Personality” (GAP) study. This study seeks to better understand genetic and environmental influences in individuals with alcohol and other drug use disorders.

Virginia Commonwealth University Project Overview*

What is this project?

The Genes, Addiction, and Personality (GAP) study is aimed at helping researchers better understand the genetic and environmental factors that contribute to risk for substance use disorders (SUDs). The project will also explore how SUDs are related to behavioral characteristics, such as personality or symptoms of depression. To contribute to efforts to identify which genetic factors are important and how they impact risk, the GAP study is inviting people to take a survey about their history of substance use and other behaviors and to provide a DNA sample.

We know from prior studies that genetics account for about half the risk of developing a substance use disorder. Importantly, at the individual level, genetic risk varies widely, and there is no single “gene for” addiction. Rather, hundreds to thousands of genetic variants are likely to impact risk. Some of these may directly impact how the body processes a drug, while others may be related to personality characteristics that make one more likely to experiment with substances or engage in risk-taking behavior; still other genetic variants might increase risk for depression, which some individuals may self-medicate through substance misuse. The GAP study aims to explore all these different pathways to addiction.


Who is leading this project?

The principal investigators are Drs. Kenneth Kendler and Dace Svikis, both of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Drs. Svikis and Kendler have conducted research on behavioral health, including SUDs, for decades. Dr. Svikis’s expertise is in treatment and intervention, while Dr. Kendler has focused on the epidemiology of these outcomes.


What does the study involve?

Interested individuals would take a brief (1-3 minute) screener to see if they are eligible for the study. Those who are eligible would be invited to complete an online survey, which takes about 15-20 minutes, and provide a saliva (DNA) sample. The survey includes questions about family history, substance use, behavioral health, personality, and demographics. Once the survey is completed, the GAP team will mail a DNA collection kit, which requires a saliva sample. It usually takes less than 5 minutes to provide enough saliva for the sample. Once the team receives the sample, participants are compensated with a $10 electronic gift card.

It is important that our sample reflects the diversity of people who have experienced addiction – substance use disorders impact people of all ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and races/ethnicities. Some affected individuals identify as introverts and others as extroverts; some have a family history of addiction and others do not; some have social support networks while others are not as fortunate. We are hopeful that study participants will represent the full range variation so that we can better understand how genetic and environmental factors impact risk in multiple contexts.


Is my information private and secure?

Yes! While we do need your contact information in order to mail you a DNA kit, we will delete this data once your DNA sample is returned unless you wish to be contacted for future research. Your contact information is never linked to your survey responses, and it’s never linked to your genetic data. We have obtained a Certificate of Confidentiality to ensure that we cannot be compelled to disclose any of your survey responses or genetic data to anyone, even law enforcement. No identifying information will ever be shared with anyone outside the research team.


Why should I participate?

SUDs have devastating consequences for so many people. This study aims to improve our understanding of how biological and environmental factors contribute to risk, and how SUDs are related to other outcomes, such as depression and other behavioral issues. By participating in GAP, you are contributing to that effort, which has the potential to improve prevention, intervention, and treatment efforts. We think this is very important work, and hope that you do too!


How to participate

A US based mailing address is required to participate. If you would like to see if you qualify for the GAP study, please click the button below. This will take you through a short series of questions to see if you are eligible for the study. If you are, you’ll be given additional information about the research before starting the survey. If you have previously participated in the GAP study, please do not take the survey again. If you have questions, you can contact

*Project overview provided by Virginia Commonwealth University


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