Robert Downey Jr.’s Son Indio Arrested for Cocaine Possession

Robert Downey Jr.‘s son Indio Downey was arrested last night in West Hollywood for alleged cocaine possession. According to TMZ, the 20 year old was a passenger in a car that was stopped by police when they noticed Downey smoking from a pipe. A search allegedly found cocaine and he was taken into custody. He subsequently posted over $10,000 bail and was released. He is scheduled to appear in court on August 29.

His father, Iron Man 3 star, Robert Downey Jr. released a statement saying:

“Unfortunately, there’s a genetic component to addiction and Indio has likely inherited it. We’re grateful to the Sheriff’s Department for their intervention, and believe Indio can be another recovery success story instead of a cautionary tale.”

Indio shared the screen with his father in the 2005 movie, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. His career seemed to be doing well recently. His  rock band The Seems recently signed a deal with Warner Bros.  He also appeared in a movie entitled Run for Roxanne, ironically about a drug runner forced to go on the run with his sister to escape an assassin. It is to be released later this year.

Perhaps there were some warning signs last November, when Indio checked himself into rehab for help with dependence on a prescription medication. In an interview with the National Enquirer, his mother, Deborah Falconer, said that she did not think that it was “anything serious” and that Indio “does not have a problem with prescription drugs or narcotics.”Instead, she added, “We are hoping to do it the homeopathic way rather than with medications. He’s being treated with vitamin supplements and organic foods.”

This was apparently “a nightmare” for his father, who is well known for his struggles with drug addiction. From 1996 through 2001, Downey was arrested numerous times on drug-related charges including cocaine, heroin and marijuana and went several times through drug treatment programs unsuccessfully, explaining in 1999 to a judge: “It’s like I’ve got a shotgun in my mouth with my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gun metal.”

Robert Downey Jr. explained his relapses by claiming to have been addicted to drugs since the age of eight. His father, also an addict, had been giving them to him. He finally became sober in 2003 and has remained so, leading to the major comeback of his acting career.

What are the Genetics of Drug Addiction?

Genes, the functional units that make up our DNA, provide the information that directs our bodies’ basic cellular activities. Some diseases, like sickle cell anemia or cystic fibrosis, are caused by an error in a single gene. However, most diseases, including addiction, are more complicated: variations in many different genes contribute to an individual’s overall level of risk or resistance.

Studies of identical twins indicate that as much as half of an individual’s risk of becoming addicted to nicotine, alcohol, or other drugs depends on his or her genes.

Twin studies offer a chance to compare the influence of genetics versus environment.  Identical twins (one-egg twins) share exactly the same set of genes while fraternal twins (two-egg twins), like ordinary siblings, share only one-half their genes.  A higher rate of similarity between identical twins compared with fraternal twins would argue for heredity.  In other words, how often are both twins affected together rather than only one.  The evidence from twin studies favors heredity with figures of 60% (identical) versus 39% (fraternal).

Pinning down the biological basis for this risk is an important avenue of research for scientists trying to solve the problem of drug abuse:

cancer snpsRecent advances in DNA analysis enables researchers to untangle complex genetic interactions by examining a person’s entire genome at once. These genome-wide association studies (GWAS) identify subtle variations in DNA sequence called single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) – places where individuals differ in just a single letter of the genetic code. If a SNP appears more often in individuals with a disease than those without, it is presumed to be located in or near a gene that influences susceptibility to that disease.

GWAS are extremely powerful because they are unbiased and comprehensive: they can implicate a known gene in a disorder, and they can identify genes which may have been overlooked or previously unknown. Building on GWAS results, scientists gather additional evidence from affected families and  animal models, to verify and understand the link between a gene and risk for a disease.

Many genes with a role in addiction have been done using animal models, such as mice and fruit flies. This is because the “reward pathway” and many of the genes associated with it, works the same way as in people. Identifying a gene that functions in the reward pathway in the animal model, scientists can then look for similar DNA sequences in humans. Several human genes associated with addiction have been found this way.

Nature or Nuture?drugs and genetics

That old saying “nature or nurture?” might be better phrased “nature and nurture,” because research shows that individual health is the result of dynamic interactions between genes and environmental conditions.

Environmental influences, such as exposure to drugs or stress, can alter both gene expression and gene function. In some cases, these effects may persist throughout a person’s life. Research suggests that genes can also influence how a person responds to his or her environment, placing some individuals at higher risk than others.

Why do some people become addicted, while others do not?

As with any other disease, vulnerability to addiction differs from person to person. In general, the more risk factors an individual has, the greater the chance that taking drugs will lead to abuse and addiction. “Protective” factors reduce a person’s risk of developing addiction.

No single factor determines whether a person will become addicted to drugs. The overall risk for addiction is impacted by the biological makeup of the individual – it can even be influenced by gender or ethnicity, his or her developmental stage, and the surrounding social environment (e.g., conditions at home, at school, and in the neighborhood).

The Take Home Lesson?

Once a person uses alcohol or drugs, those with a genetic predisposition are at higher risk for developing an addiction. It is not a moral or willpower issue-it’s a medical problem.

Just as important, individuals who may be genetically predisposed to addiction are not “doomed” to become addicts. For those with a strong family history of drug or alcohol abuse, knowing they are at increased risk for addiction may help them modify or change the way they live to minimize the risk.

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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