Alcoholism and Genetics

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Got Alcohol in the DNA

You’ve heard this story before. “Scientists think they’ve found the alcoholism gene”. And 9 times out of 10, it turns out that they weren’t exactly right about what they were saying, or even worse, faked a study or two. But not in this case - it seems that science may have finally found a specific gene that makes you more prone to becoming an alcoholic. That being said, take things written here with a grain of salt - keep in mind that as usual, correlation is not causation, and while a gene may code for a certain neurotransmitter, it’s not guaranteed that an increase in one neurotransmitter will lead to you being an alcoholic.

Alcoholism is a complicated thing. There are genetic and environmental factors, much like intelligence or height. The way I’ve always viewed it works like this. Your genetics determine where on the “Likely to be an alcoholic” scale you are. The genetics set a range that you’ll occupy for the rest of your life. The environment however, determines where on that range you are - be it towards the lower end or towards the higher end.

What it boils down to is seratonin. Let’s do a quick refresher on seratonin and neurotransmitters. The gaps between neurons (nervous cells) is called the synapse - it is in this gap that you’ll find special chemical receptors that cause parts of the brain to fire giving us moods, sexual drives, and even emotions. These chemical receptors are collectively referred to as neurotransmitters. They aid the brain in balancing out how we feel and how we cope with situations by controlling the level of these chemicals.

Seratonin in particular is a special neurotransmitter in that a lot of drugs can help control the levels. This particular neurotransmitter is essential for us to feel good about ourselves - it controls how you feel about yourself in a positive way. If the DNA codes for lower levels of seratonin, then the person can feel chronically depressed, therefore leading to greater consumption of alcohol in an attempt to feel good.

Interestingly, this is the first time a single gene has been identified in conjunction with the seratonin level. As such, it’s a big step forward in research for gene variations that cause disorders - as a single gene, it makes it much easier for scientists to determine what’s wrong with the gene in question and then use current techniques to fix it.


Website Sources

Genetic Trait Linked to Alcoholism

28 November 2008