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Bridging the gap between genetics and motivations to drink alcohol

  • People's alcohol expectations are known to influence their likelihood of developing alcohol problems.
  • New research has found that a person's genetic makeup may influence their motivation to drink, leading to behaviors that increase the risk for alcoholism.
  • Particularly important motivations involve drinking to relieve social anxiety and improve mood.

Alcohol researchers already know that people who expect positive results from drinking a better mood or social ease are more likely than other drinkers to develop alcohol problems. Conversely, those who have negative expectations queasiness, dizziness or fatigue are less likely to develop alcohol problems. A study in the January issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research has found that a person's genetic makeup may influence their motivation to drink, which can, in turn, enhance behaviors that increase the risk for alcoholism.

"We were interested in learning if beliefs about alcohol provided a partial explanation for how risk for alcoholism is transmitted across generations," said Carol A. Prescott, associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University, and first author of the study. "This transmission could be either environmental, in that young adults model the drinking behavior and motivations of their parents, or through genetic mechanisms, meaning there are physiological reasons alcohol is perceived as more pleasurable by some people and this is transmitted from alcoholic parents to their offspring via genes. For example, we know that people with a family history of alcoholism are more likely to have positive expectations and less likely to have negative ones."

"Although there is much consensus that alcohol abuse and dependence are caused, in part, by genetic factors, there is less certainty concerning what is inherited and how that genetic
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14-Jan-2004


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