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The Genetics of Alcohol Abuse

DNA plays a role in the amount of alcohol you drink, researchers say.

Among alcohol-dependent (AD) individuals, DNA variations in the brains serotonergic system influence drinking intensity. Specifically the serotonin transporter gene (SLC6A4) contributes to a persons inclination to drink.

Researchers analyzed the associations between 275 AD patients seeking treatment and six variations of SLC6A4. Of the six variations, those who carried two T alleles were found to drink more intensely than those who carried one or two alleles of G.

Serotonin is a neurochemical that carries information between nerve cells in the brain, mediating the rewarding effects of alcohol, Ming D. Li, Ph.D., study author and a Jean and Ronald Butcher Professor at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, was quoted as saying.

Mild alcohol intake increases serotonin release while also signaling the brain regions that monitor alcohol consumption; however, chronic drinking reduces the serotonergic function, causing serotonin levels to deplete. Researchers say the reason alcoholics drink may be to alleviate the serotonin-deficient state.

In this study, researchers found cells carrying the T allele, linked to intense drinking, had lower serotonin levels than cells carrying the G allele.

Experts say this genetic information can by used to develop more personalized approaches to treating alcoholism.

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SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, published online November 20, 2008

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