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Is Teen Binge Drinking Genetic?

Is Teen Binge Drinking Genetic?

Binge drinking, or consuming large amounts of alcohol over a short period of time, has long been known to be harmful, while binge drinking among teenagers has been a growing concern. Now, scientists think they may have found a genetic cause as to why some teenagers are more likely to binge drink than others.

A team of scientists from King’s College London had previously found that animals lacking a gene already known to relate to problem drinking — RASGRF 2 — exhibited less of a desire for alcohol than those with the gene.

Building on this, researchers then tested 663 teenage boys to see if those who had a version of the gene would exhibit a heightened dopamine response when tested in a way that would simulate the expectation of alcohol reward.

Scientists were able to track this by watching for more activity in an area of the brain called the ventral striatum, a key region involved in dopamine release.

When they later contacted their test subjects once those boys had reached 16 and then quizzed them about their drinking habits, they found that those who had the variation of the RASGRF-2 gene did indeed drink more frequently and heavily.

The thinking behind the process is that the RASGRF-2 variation predisposes certain people to a heightened dopamine reward from drinking.  However, pleasure-seeking plateaus once the experience becomes a routine thing, therefore in order to get that same dopamine high, seekers must go to increasing lengths. It is thought that the RASGRF-2 variation may make its possessors particularly susceptible to this chain of behavior.

Binge drinking can be incredibly dangerous because consuming large amounts of alcohol over a short period of time can compound the effects of the alcohol. Furthermore, because often the aim of binge drinking is to get drunk as quickly as possible, this often leads to mixing drinks in a manner that can lead people to be unaware of just how much alcohol they have actually consumed, potentially leading them into dangerous situations and perhaps even cases of alcohol poisoning.

As to whether binge drinking is genetic, the answer is no, not solely.

Lead researcher Professor Gunter Schumann is keen to stress that this research does not prove that one gene alone causes binge drinking — far from it, it is likely that binge drinking is a result of the interplay of several genes and a number of environmental factors.

However, Schumann believes this research can provide important clues into future avenues of research and, crucially, begin to enable science to explore ways in which we can identify and help teenagers who are predisposed to this chain of behavior manage their pleasure seeking behavior in a way that is not harmful.

He told the Independent:

“We found that this gene plays a crucial role in controlling how alcohol stimulates the brain to release dopamine, a nerve signalling molecule, and hence trigger the feeling of reward.

[...]

“Identifying risk factors for early alcohol abuse is important in designing prevention and treatment interventions for alcohol addiction.”

This study came about as part of a wider pan-European study known as the Imagen Consortium which aims to investigate mental health and risk taking behavior in teenagers from England, France, Ireland and Germany.

The study’s findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 

Related Reading:

Binge Drinking is More Likely to Affect Teen Girls

How to Control Teen Drinking: Parents Matter

College Women Turn to Hard Liquor

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Image credit: Thinkstock.

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30 comments

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10:29AM PST on Feb 9, 2014

Thanks for sharing.

6:42AM PST on Dec 18, 2012

Alcoholic birds. Ha ha.

6:25PM PST on Dec 17, 2012

ty

4:22AM PST on Dec 17, 2012

sometimes I think it's peer pressure. going with the crowd.

4:17AM PST on Dec 17, 2012

Alcohol is totally natural. The first drunk came from eating overripe berries. Birds are known to go for such berries to the point that they are unable to perch on branches and fall to the ground drunk, where they are easy prey. Or grass grains fall into a puddle and can ferment. Humans just have the brain power to figure out how to ferment the berries or grains faster and in greater quantities.

10:35PM PST on Dec 14, 2012

More likely an age/maturity issue.

1:44PM PST on Dec 14, 2012

I wouldn't say it's genetic. Some kids will model the coping mechanisms that they see their parents using. Other kids will be so turned off by their parents drinking that they will never take a sip of it themselves for the remainder of their lives.

But overall, based on my own observations, I believe addictive behaviors and coping mechanisms are learned and not genetically based.

6:12AM PST on Dec 14, 2012

Thank you Steve, for Sharing this!

7:55PM PST on Dec 13, 2012

Binge drinking is a symptom of a much larger problem- A society where drinking is glorified and thought "cool' to be drinking and indeed to be roaring drunk and thought to be socially "in" while doing so.

This society agressively markets wine and beer- Every where you look, advertizements for beer and the like are rampant- At sporting events where the young are present (and where drunk behavior is on display) and no one seems to mind- Drinking is "in" and socially acceptable- Until this changes, binge drinking will not stop- It will increase as will drunk driving and medical rehab to cure drunkedness.
But in all this mix is one absurd reality- Thou can drink to oblivion but don't dare light up a smoke! Don't even let on you might smoke and if you do you are an instant "leeper" amoung your peers- UN-cool and filthy!
Drinking ought to be attacked like smokers were- Driven from the public square and removed from society- Only then will thousands be saved from being killed by drunk drivers and a stop to binge drinking!

4:48PM PST on Dec 13, 2012

So scientists can justify using lab animals to conduct research such as this.
Binge drinking among teens tends to be socially and peer motivated.
The binge drinking experiences of teenagers don't automatically lead to problem drinking or alcoholism later in life.
Exposure to addiction in the home can lead to similar problems for the children.
Exposure to none in the home can lead to alcoholism and addiction problems for children.
Why do animals in labs have to suffer?

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