Can Your Genes Predict Whether or Not You'll Be An Alcoholic?

Can Your Genes Predict Whether or Not You’ll Be An Alcoholic?

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This post was originally published on June 17, 2014.
Genealogy: I don’t get it and I don’t really know if I care to. As an adoptee, I’m used to feeling like an alien that was dumped here from above with no clear-cut link to my family or ancestors—or what traits, flaws, neuroses or health woes I may have inherited from them.

Can You Blame It on Genes?

I wish I felt more connected to my birth origins, but despite having met my birth-mom twice (it was awkward, as is everything when you are me), I still feel like an alien a great deal of the time. An alien who still has no idea if alcoholism runs in my family; fun!
Whether addiction has touched your blood relatives or not, you probably, like, actually care about your genes, perhaps/most likely more than I do. So perhaps you’ll be intrigued by  this new research, which shows that there are 11 gene variations that appear to be linked to a higher risk of alcoholism. Though the impact of these genes will probably not be very far reaching, “the results could provide more insight into the mysterious role that genes play in determining why some people drink and don’t get addicted while others become alcoholics.”
The researchers came up with a “genetic risk score” based on how many of the gene variations people had and learned that the average person had a score of 47 out of 100 while three-quarters of those with scores above 48 were alcoholics. Okay, so where does that leave us? “It may be possible someday for young people to take a blood test and learn if they’re susceptible to alcoholism,” said the study’s co-author, an associate professor of psychiatry and medical neuroscience at Indiana University School of Medicine. Now, I don’t want to be a cynic but to me, may, possible and someday basically mean we’ll see about that.

Another Nature versus Nurture Debate

According to the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, research indicates that “genetics account for about half the risk that someone will become an alcoholic. Environment is responsible for the rest.” What exactly “environment” means is anyone’s guess.
Because I’m adopted, as I mentioned above, I have no clue whether alcoholism runs in my family or what. And to be honest, I just…don’t really care. I’ve thought about doing a DNA test like the one offered by companies like 23AndMe to get at least some answers regarding my makeup and what might or might not be lurking there, but I haven’t gotten it together to make it happen yet. (Oh, and I just discovered that 23AndMe no longer includes health issues in their DNA testing reports! There goes that idea!)
I guess in the overall scheme of things, it’s just not a big deal to me whether my own propensity for heavy drinking was caused by blood or by “environment” or by depression or whatever. Instead, I focus on treating it.
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About Author

Laura Barcella is a documentary researcher, author, freelance writer and ghostwriter from Washington, DC. Her writing has also appeared in TIME, Marie Claire, Salon, Esquire, Elle, Refinery29, AlterNet, The Village Voice, Cosmopolitan, The Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out New York, BUST, ELLE Girl, NYLON and CNN.com. Her book credits include Know Your Rights: A Modern Kid's Guide to the American Constitution, Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World, Popular: The Ups and Downs of Online Dating from the Most Popular Girl in New York City, Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop and The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions From Pop Culture That You Should Know About…Before It’s Too Late.