Scientists have long been aware that drinking habits tend to be inherited from one generation to the next, both through genetic predisposition as well as learned behavior. Very few genes have been identified with alcohol use, though. A group of researchers have conducted a study with more than 105,000 participants who were light and heavy social drinkers. The researchers didn’t include alcoholics in their representative sample.
The study participants all provided genetic samples. They were also asked to complete questionnaires about their drinking habits.
Light and Heavy Drinking Defined
Light or moderate drinking is defined as up to 14 drinks per week for men and seven drinks for women. Heavy drinking is more than 14 drinks per week for women and 21 drinks per week for men. A “drink” is generally the equivalent of one beer or a glass of wine.
Gene Variation Linked to Lower Thirst for Alcohol
The study was able to identify a gene variation that is linked to a lower desire to drink alcohol. This variant, nicknamed the “teetotaler gene,” was seen in approximately 40 percent of the study participants.
Alcohol abuse is a major public health issue that is responsible for than three million deaths annually, according to Steven Kliewer, professor of molecular biology and pharmacology at UT Southwestern and the study’s co-corresponding author. He stated in a university news release that much of the research on alcohol consumption has centered on the issue of addiction.
Professor Kliewer points out that public health issues associated with drinking encompass more than just alcohol addiction. To fully appreciate the problem, the spectrum must include the total amount of alcohol being consumed. The researchers pointed out that having people reduce the amount they drink weekly from the “Heavy Drinking” category to “Moderate” could lower their risk of developing heart disease or high blood pressure.
The researchers said that their discovery of the gene variant may eventually lead to the development of drugs that could control the amount of alcohol that a person consumes. These medications could be used to help problem drinkers in the future.