Untangling the matrix of risk factors for alcoholism

e fathers' alcoholism subtype. (The data were taken from a larger, ongoing longitudinal family study on risks for developing alcoholism and other problems.)

The authors found that the LL genotype of 5-HTTLPR was associated with both BD and NA in COAs. In addition, significantly more LL than SS/SL genotype children reported they had already consumed alcohol.

"This finding," said Twitchell, "supports the hypothesis that behavioral and emotional problems in COAs, which put them at increased risk for later development of alcoholism, may be genetically regulated in part by the 5-HT transporter. In other words, the 5-HTTLPR genotype may serve as a marker for vulnerability for COAs.

"The results of this study are fascinating," said Pihl. "Although we have learned to cautiously view genetic studies that attempt to explain behavior; this one makes sense. It suggests an overactive transporter gene which could result in a deficiency of serotonergic synaptic functioning. This is another strong piece of evidence in this evolving story. However," he added, "there remain gaps in our knowledge. We continue to be in a state much like what Newton described when he said 'we are finding interesting pebbles while the great ocean of truth lays undiscovered before us.'"

Twitchell hopes to move beyond those 'pebbles' one day. "Our group plans to follow these children over time with complete psychosocial assessments at three-year intervals into adulthood," he said. "Our finding of higher rates of alcohol consumption in LL genotype children as young as a mean age of 10.88 years is important because it suggests that this liability manifests early in one's life course. Those with a family history of alcoholism may want to be aware of their increased risk and monitor their alcohol use accordingly."


Contact: Geoffrey R. Twitchell, Ph.D.
Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research

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