Born to Drink: The Genetic Link to Alcoholism

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is one of the most commonly occurring mental health issues in the world. The disease is define by the constant desire to consume alcohol. Resultantly, this causes the development of a negative emotional state and leads to the lack of control over consumption.

Research has now shown that the causation of AUD is in fact approximately 50% genetic. Contradicting common misconceptions of a 100% environmental origin.

Photo: © Europen Parliament/P.Naj-Oleari

Previous Research

Continuous research has been conducted in order to determine the cause of AUD, however most of this research appears to be inconclusive. This is due to the small number of participants previously available to individual researchers.

To combat this issue, a group of scientists from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine collated previous studies on the genetic link of AUD to finally reach a solid conclusion.

Evidence Too Hard To Dispute

The collected data utilised twin and adoption studies. The purpose of these studies is to determine the underlying cause of AUD – whether it is the environment a child is raised in or their genetic material.

The collation of twin and adoption studies resulted in massive participant involvement of 96982 and 6548 participants respectively. A total of 103 530 participants. Further, this massive number of participants originated from a total of 6 countries across 3 different continents.

The participants underwent extensive analysis as part of their original study. Thus the necessary data was already present. This data was then collated and tabulated to complete a thorough analysis of the entire data pool.

The analysis of all twin studies, adoption studies and combined twin and adoption studies all resulted in consistent results. A 50% heritability with 95% confidence.

Considering the extensive number of participants and the diversity of their geographical locations, the results of this research are certainly hard to dispute.

Where Next?

With AUD being substantially shown to have a genetic link, scientists must next determine the exact genetic cause.

Scientists at the University of Illinois, Chicago have begun just that. Their research into the epigenetics of AUD suggests that there may be multiple genetic sources.

Genetic factors, such as the sequence of DNA as passed from parent to their child, provide a predisposition to this disease. In contrast, epigenetics relate to chemical tags on DNA that switch genes on/off. It is suggested that environmental exposure can turn on genes associated with AUD through these tags, leading to the development of Alcoholism.

So Why Are We Still Victim Shaming?

Worldwide, acceptance rates of AUD as a legitimate disease are high. Despite this, the vast majority of people still refuse to accept it as a hereditary condition. People instead perceive AUD as a moral weakness and a self-inflicted circumstance.

It is clear that Alcohol Use Disorder is a genetic disorder. So why does society continues to place the burden on those affected? Instead, should we not be spending this time and energy to further investigate the exact genetic cause?

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