Serotonin transporter genotype linked to adolescent substance use treatment outcome through externalizing behavior

Tammy Chung, Jack R. Cornelius, Christopher S. Martin, Robert Ferrell, Stephen A. Maisto, Duncan B. Clark

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Meta-analyses suggest that the serotonin transporter linked polymorphic region (5-HTTLPR) short (S) allele, relative to the long (L) allele, is associated with risk for alcohol dependence, particularly among individuals with early onset antisocial alcoholism. Youth in substance use treatment tend to show antisocial or externalizing behaviors, such as conduct problems, which predict worse treatment outcome. This study examined a pathway in which 5-HTTLPR genotype is associated with externalizing behavior, and the intermediate phenotype of externalizing behavior serves as a link between 5-HTTLPR genotype and substance use treatment outcome in youth. Adolescents (n = 142) who were recruited from addictions treatment were genotyped for 5-HTTLPR polymorphisms (S and L G carriers vs. L A L A ), assessed for externalizing and internalizing behaviors shortly after starting treatment, and followed over 6-months. 5-HTTLPR genotype was not associated with internalizing behaviors, and was not directly associated with 6-month substance use outcomes. However, 5-HTTLPR genotype was associated with externalizing behaviors (S and L G > L A L A ), and externalizing behaviors predicted alcohol and marijuana problem severity at 6-month follow-up. Results indicated an indirect (p < 0.05) and non-specific (i.e., both alcohol and marijuana severity) effect of 5-HTTLPR genotype on youth substance use treatment outcomes, with externalizing behaviors as an important linking factor. Adolescents in substance use treatment with low expressing (S and L G ) 5-HTTLPR alleles and externalizing behavior might benefit from intervention that addresses serotonergic functioning, externalizing behaviors, and substance use to improve outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number71
JournalFrontiers in Pediatrics
Issue numberJUL
StatePublished - Jul 1 2014


  • Adolescent
  • Alcohol
  • Externalizing behavior
  • Genetics
  • Marijuana
  • Serotonin transporter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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