Bridging the gap between genetics and motivations to drink alcohol

vulnerability is manifested," added Kenneth J. Sher, Curators' Professor of psychological sciences at The University of Missouri and the Midwest Alcoholism Research Center. "Drinking motives represent a possible genetic mediator of alcoholism risk in multiple ways. For example, if genetic variability predisposes someone to experience greater neuropharmacological reward from alcohol, it could lead to stronger motives to drink for positive reinforcement. Furthermore, genetic vulnerability to depression or anxiety or depression could serve as the foundation for drinking to alleviate negative mood states. Thus, the current study attempts to answer the question of how genetic risk might be related to the various reasons individuals report for why they drink."

Prescott and her colleagues examined data gathered from 2,529 female and 3,709 male adult twins participating in the Virginia Adult Twin Study of Psychiatric and Substance Use Disorders. "The data from twin pairs are used to estimate the degree to which individual differences can be attributed to differences among people in their genetic, family environmental and individual-specific environmental causes," explained Prescott.

The researchers used four scales to measure individual differences in drinking motives: drinking to manage mood states, to relieve social anxiety, in social situations, and to improve mental functioning. They also determined lifetime alcohol abuse and/or dependence among the study participants through use of a structured interview that used criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - Fourth Edition.

"The findings contribute to our understanding of how genetic risk results in alcoholism," said Prescott: "It has long been known that alcoholism runs in families. Twin and adoption studies in the past 20 years have shown that this familiality is in large part due to genetic factors shared by family members. But we don't know very


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