If You’re a Jackass When You’re Drunk, It Could Be Your Alcoholic Genes

If You’re a Jackass When You’re Drunk, It Could Be Your Alcoholic Genes

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This post was originally published on December 16, 2015.

We’ve all either seen ‘em or been ‘em—the erratic drunk who makes terrible impulse decisions. These choices might not always be as stupid as the boozehound who decided that punching a cop’s horse might be a solid scheme, or as tragic as the writer who shot his wife in a party game—but they rarely end well. If you’ve noticed that some people are more prone to make jackass decisions when drunk, The Examiner just published an article that proves you right.

Bad Call, Dude—Again.

The article reports on a recent study by scientists at the University of Helsinki who have discovered a genetic mutation that causes erratic behavior when alcohol is consumed. This finding not only explains why you ate that rancid 3 am street meat; it piles on the proof that alcoholism is a genetic disease.

How does it work? Well, like so much else about alcoholism, it’s got a lot to do with our brain function. It turns out that those with a particular genetic twist within their serotonin b receptors tend to do horse-punchingly stupid things when drunk. They don’t even have to be hammered; it just takes a couple of drinks to bring out the gene-based crazy.

Blame Your Daddy?

After dropping that intriguing discovery, The Examiner casually throws down a few more facts—perhaps too casually. First it states that anyone who has this genetic mutation is considered to be alcoholic (even if they’ve never had a drink? Even if they’re 14 months old?) Next, the writer offhandedly asserts that alcoholism is usually inherited from the male parent.

I’ve spent a few hours at the Alkie Corral and never heard that one before. And I haven’t seen that in life—at all. It’s been shown that alcoholism on either parent’s side causes an eight-fold increase in the likelihood of their children becoming alcoholics, so when did Dad get the sole blame? And has anyone told Freud that, for once, something’s not Mom’s fault? If so, there’s some grave-spinning going on in London.

There is, however, some support for this claim. A few years ago, a University of Pittsburgh study showed that a father’s “excessive drinking could set up his son for alcohol abuse, even before conception.” However, the majority of studies indicate that the gender of the alcoholic parent is less important than the presence of alcoholism—and of alcoholic thinking patterns—in the family. And those thinking patterns, as the Helsinki team discovered, directly relate to that serotonin b receptor.

The Jackass Gene Among Non-Alcoholics

Here’s the good news: it’s possible that awareness of the I-do-stupid-shit-while-wasted gene could change perceptions of crazy-ass drinking behavior, particularly amongst the young. Imagine a world in which no one views Frat House doucheries or Jersey Shore punch-outs as hilarious, but as a sign of a problem. And remember the usually nice guy in high school, the one whose whole face would change a few drinks into the party? The guy who always ended up either weeping or busting someone’s head by midnight? Maybe he could get some help, too—before drinking takes over his life.

Look, I’m a realist so I don’t think this will prevent anyone from developing alcoholism. But maybe it can help some to never have to wake up hung over, with the regretful tang of street meat on their breath.

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Dana Burnell has written for The London Times Sunday Magazine, The Guardian Weekend Magazine, Inside New York and Time Out New York. A former Editorial Assistant at Harvard Review, she’s the received Mellon Foundation Grant and two Fiction Fellowship Grants from Columbia University. She’s written two novels, Mistaken Nonentity and The Tame Man.