As many as 930 genes may be associated with heavy drinking, according to a recent study published by Indiana researchers. In comparison, human eye color is determined by just 16 genes or less.
Thus, developing medication for the treatment of alcoholism is daunting, due to the vast network of genes involved.
Among predictors of alcoholism is familial drinking behavior. But this just brings up another point – that nature vs. nurture makes it difficult to determine whether alcoholism is truly genetic, environmental, or a combination of both.
About the Study
In the study, researchers bred two lines of rats. One group exhibited clinical signs of alcoholism, the other group was completely abstinent.
The breeding actually took several decades to accomplish. Most animals have a innate aversion to heavy alcohol consumption, but there’s always some which tend to over partake.
Eventually, researchers produced a line of rats that drank in excess. The rats preferred alcohol to water, performed tasks to obtain alcohol, and revealed signs of withdrawal..
To determine which genetic traits were found among heavy drinking rats and abstainers, researchers then compared genomes from 10 rats in each genetic line. The experiment was repeated with two more lines to determine if genes were the result of natural selection or random.
Results revealed that 930 genes – most responsible for regulation – were associated with heavy drinking. Although the network is complex, of note, glutamate receptors contained a number of genes associated with alcoholism, Next, researchers will attempt to verify that the genes found in rats are also associated with human alcoholism.
So is alcoholism genetic? Yes, but that’s not all of it. Even with identical genetics, environment can affect if, and to what extent, our genes express themselves.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the Indiana Alcohol Research Center funded the study.