Determining the Correlation Between Amino Acids and Substance Abuse

Amino Acids serve an important role in both nutrition and healthcare.  Much of this stems from the fact that amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and polypeptides, which are precursors for the synthesis of substances that have substantial biological importance.  In order for homeostasis to be maintained in the human body, physiological concentrations of amino acids and their metabolites have to be present. Any disruption in this homeostasis can lead to the formation of pathogenic factors that promote the development of disease.  Therefore, it is imperative to maintain an optimal balance amongst the amino acids obtained through one’s diet along with those present in the circulation.

Amino acids for Substance Abuse
Amino Acids in powder and tablet form

Functional amino acids, generally attained through dietary means, have long been known for their potentiating ability in regulating metabolic pathways necessary for key bodily functions such as maintenance, growth, reproduction and immunity.    

Drug and Substance abuse is fast becoming an epidemic across the United States, and around the world.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse has estimated that the abuse of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs comes at a cost, roughly $700 billion annually in costs related to crime, loss of work productivity and health care.  The vast majority of patients in this demographic fall in the age group of 18-24 yrs. of age, and, for the most part, possess a number of other co-morbid medical conditions, often related to their addictions such as Hepatitis C, HIV, and depression.    

types of amino acids
Types of Amino acids in a colorful clear table

There is still much intrigue surrounding amino acids and the extent of its impact on the behavioral health field of medicine.  Deficiencies in neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline, and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) are often associated with depression. As reported in several studies, the amino acids tryptophan, tyrosine, phenylalanine, and methionine are often helpful in treating a number of mood disorders including depression. 


Detox of South Florida, Inc. is a medically-assisted detoxification facility where patients, who make the conscious decision to leave their addictive tendencies come to address their addictions, and taper off of their substances of abuse in a controlled, medically supervised environment, where all the medical support is available to minimize pain and discomfort.  


Amino acid testing has been undertaken on several patients who attended the facility and certain trends or patterns have been noted in the results.  For the vast majority of the amino acids which were tested, it was noted that they were either elevated in a large proportion of patients or, conversely, low in a large proportion of patients.  Furthermore, when testing was completed after patients completed their medically assisted detoxification at the facility, before discharge, the results showed diverse range of changes from the initial admission results, with different amino acids being elevated.


In this study, the determination as to whether there is any correlation between substance abuse and the elevation/deficiency of certain amino acids would be a variable that was studied.  Furthermore, are these trends specific to a certain substance of abuse, or generally due to substances of abuse. As we are aware of the many benefits that amino acids present to the human body, is there a possible correlation between altered levels of amino acids and the mental health of a patient, such as the presentation of depression and depressive symptoms.  With that being said, it could be determined as to whether amino acids affect the production and uptake of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. It would also be determined as to whether certain environmental factors involved in the treatment protocol of the patient played a role in improving or changing their amino acid profile from admission to discharge, such as dietary factors, etc.   


Study of various amino acids sources
Study of various amino acids sources

The Amino acid study/pilot project was undertaken over a span of three years.  In that time, numerous patients were tested and studied to determine the true effects that amino acids has on effecting cravings and reducing relapse rates.  Initially, a retrospective study was completed, followed by two retrospective studies. Duration of usage, number of substances abused, types of substances abused and genetic predisposition to addiction are all factors that have been measured and assessed.  Furthermore, comparing the findings of urinary versus plasma levels of amino acids also illustrated a number of remarkable findings, as each particular type of metabolite reveals a different propensity of information that can be illustrated into meaningful findings.  Due to the fact that amino acids have the presence of an amino group and a carboxyl group, this allows amino acids to be separated and identified by some form of chromatography.  For quantitative amino acid analysis, plasma is the most informative and therefore is the preferred sample type. It is important to note however that disorders of renal amino acid transport e.g. cystinuria will be missed if a plasma sample alone is analyzed. For the diagnosis of this group of disorders quantitation of urinary amino acids should be performed. Amino acids are reported relative to the creatinine level to compensate for urine concentration.


Detox Center for treatment of drug addiction
Detox Center for treatment of drug addiction

Due to fact that the average length of stay for a patient at the Detox Centre averages around 5.8 days, coupled with the fact that many patients suffer from co-morbid conditions such as hepatitis, there is not enough time to administer amino acids to these patients, and re assess their amino acid levels, therefore, we would focus on dietary considerations, such as providing foods rich in amino acids such as poultry or fish.