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Genes can influence both alcohol consumption and dependence

l dependence at some time in a person's life. The association was mainly due to genetic effects on both alcohol intake and alcohol dependence, but our results also show that while some genes affect both intake and dependence, others affect only dependence."

Whitfield noted that one of the strengths of this study is its examination of long-term averages of intake.

"Alcohol intake varies across time," he said. "A person may drink quite a lot on a Saturday and much less on the following Monday, or quite a lot as a 20-year-old student and less as a 35-year-old accountant. Measuring alcohol intake on only one occasion will give a less reliable estimate of the long-term average than measurements on multiple occasions, and it is the long-term average which is important for both the harmful physical effects of alcohol and its association with decreased cardiovascular risk. The differences between people which do persist across time, or the differences in long-term average intake, appear to depend on genetic differences between them."

These findings do not mean individuals are predetermined to have an alcohol problem," said Conigrave. "The situation is similar to that of coronary heart disease, where genes influence lipid levels and tendency to high blood pressure, and so increase risk of heart attack. Individuals can make decisions about their lifestyle which can improve their health and reduce their risk of harm. Similarly, individuals with a family history of heavy drinking or alcoholism can be aware that they may be at increased risk themselves, and can avoid situations that lead to heavy drinking, or can seek help early if problems emerge."

Whitefield is hopeful that his research may help to change perceptions of alcoholism. "Naturally enough," he said, "public attention focuses on the most extreme forms of alcohol dependence and literary and dramatic portrayals of alcoholics' shape or reinforce this view. However, people with les
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15-Aug-2004


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