Adolescent Binge Drinking Linked to Gene Variation and Emotional Drinking

A new study by researchers at Radboud University in the Netherlands examines why some adolescents binge drink frequently and whether there is a possible association with genetics. Although many adolescents drink alcohol, drinking large amounts of alcohol frequently (binge drinking) may indicate a deeper problem.

Senior author Carmen S. van der Zwaluw, PhD candidate at Radboud University, said this study is the first to examine the possible association between different genes, drinking to cope with negative emotions, and risky drinking among adolescents.

Van der Zwaluw said that previous studies have shown that risky alcohol use is partly genetic; however, these studies do not show which specific genes are involved in the genetic predisposition for risky drinking behavior. They wanted to try to find out which genes are responsible for this vulnerability.

For the study, the researchers looked at 282 Dutch adolescents that had consumed alcohol at least once during their lives. They collected DNA samples and asked the participants to fill out a questionnaire about their reasons for drinking and the intensity of any alcohol-related problems they encountered.

The researchers examined two gene variations: the dopamine D2 receptor gene (DRD2), which is involved in the brain’s reward system, and the serotonin transporter gene (SLC6A4), which is associated with emotional states. They found that the DRD2 variation is associated with genetic vulnerability for binge drinking and alcohol-related problems that may appear if a person drinks to numb or soothe negative emotions.

Helle Larsen, a PhD candidate at the Behavioral Science Institute at Radboud University, said that the association between coping motives and alcohol consumption in those with the DRD2 gene variation should be further studied.

Van der Zwaluw added that because this finding is the first of its kind, it needs to be replicated in future studies. She said that the next step would be looking at whether other genetic variants increase the risk for drinking problems, and whether the risk can be decreased by finding other methods to cope with negative emotions.

Source: Science Daily, Adolescent Alcohol Use Linked With Genetic Variation in DRD2 Gene and Drinking to Cope, March 14, 2011

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