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Identifying genes that contribute to a low level of response to alcohol

  • A low level of response (LR) to alcohol is predictive of future risk of alcoholism.
  • Previous research has found that a low LR has a heritability as high as 60 percent, which implies a genetic link.
  • A review of previous research has identified several categories of genes of potential interest.

Alcoholism is a complex, genetically influenced disorder. Multiple phenotypes measurable and/or observable traits or behavior contribute to the risk of developing alcoholism, particularly disinhibition, alcohol metabolizing patterns, and a low level of response (LR) to alcohol. A low LR to alcohol seems to be particularly relevant, with data indicating that LR relates to risk status, predicts future alcoholism, and has a heritability as high as 60 percent. A review in the October issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research examines previous research, seeking to identify those genes that may contribute to a low LR to alcohol.

"Prospective studies have shown that a low response to alcohol absolutely does increase your risk for future alcohol-related problems, at least in part by changing your expectations of what it is that you expect during drinking," said Marc A. Schuckit, director of the Alcohol Research Center, Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System, professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, and first author of the study.

"However," Schuckit added, "the key is that people drink especially early in their careers for effect, which often means intoxication. An individual who experiences not much of an effect from alcohol will still feel effects like anybody else, but they'll just require more to do it, and this will probably impact their expectations of what alcohol is going to do for them."

"Different people have a different initial response to alcohol, also known as level of sensitivity," said David Goldman, chief of the Laboratory of Neurogenetics at the
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