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Less intense response to alcohol sheds light on genetic tracing of alcohol dependence

required to produce the effects they want."

For the last 20 years, Dr. Schuckit has been researching the importance of a person's intensity of response to alcohol as one of several inheritable traits that may increase the propensity for alcohol dependence. His research team is searching for genes that may be related to this low alcohol response.

The Role of Genes in Alcohol Dependence

Three primary findings support the importance of genetics and alcoholism. First, the risk for alcohol dependence in the sons and daughters of alcoholics is four times higher than in the general population. Second, the rate of increased risk for alcoholism persists in children of alcoholics even if they are adopted at birth and raised by non-alcoholics. Finally, identical twins have a much higher rate of both becoming dependent on alcohol if one is--compared to the same rate for fraternal twins.

Genes can influence alcohol dependence, but they are not entirely responsible, according to Dr. Schuckit. "The same things that can be said about alcohol dependence can also be said about many medical and psychiatric conditions," he commented. "Let's use heart attacks as an example. They run in families, they appear to be genetically influenced, but it's unlikely there is a heart attack gene. What is likely is that in some families what is being passed down is another condition, such as high blood pressure or high blood fats, which then increases the risk for heart attack. For many genetically influenced disorders or conditions, people are more likely to inherit a gene for an intermediate characteristic than a gene for the condition itself. The characteristic, such as the intensity of response to alcohol, then interacts with environment to increase or decrease risk."

There also are genetic characteristics other than the level of response to alcohol that may affect the risk of alcohol dependence. For example, a series of genes that i
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Contact: Marc Schuckit, M.D.
858-552-8585 x7978
American Medical Association
21-Jul-2005


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