Genes Linked to Alcoholism
New research, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, has pinpointed 11 gene variations linked to a higher risk of alcoholism. This could lead to a better understanding of the role that genes play in the development of alcoholism. While the results may not be immediately helpful, the hope is that someday a blood test may make it possible to predict susceptibility to alcohol addiction and abuse.
“Genes are not destiny, but knowing your genetic risk profile can empower you to make smart lifestyle choices,” such as avoiding alcohol, said study co-author Dr. Alexander Niculescu III, an associate professor of psychiatry and medical neuroscience at Indiana University School of Medicine.
Researchers developed a “genetic risk score” based on the number of gene variations an individual had and found ”the average person had a score of 47 out of 100, while 75 percent of those with scores above 48 were alcoholics.” This has the potential to be a helpful tool in prevention of alcohol abuse by identifying those at risk so they can be provided education and therapy beginning at a young age, with continued monitoring throughout life if necessary.
While genes studies may have very limited use for individuals at this time, the hope is that further research will provide data clarifying how certain traits influence specific risks. For example, one gene specific to a particular demographic group of people is known to cause the person to feel ill when drinking and therefore cause negative reinforcement to make alcohol abuse less likely.
Larger and more diverse studies are needed to expand our understanding of genetics. Scientists are also learning how genes may interact with the brain’s pleasure responses. Whether genetic research provides these insights or not, new evidence-based treatments are needed to better assist those individuals and families that suffer with alcohol abuse, offering solutions for long-term health and recovery.