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Is Alcoholism Found in Genetics?

Posted in Alcoholism

If you take a close look at the science involved in alcoholism, it can be rather confusing. For instance, a recent Science Daily release explored the DNA sequence variations that occur when a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the genome sequence is altered. This concept alone may lead someone to want to turn to the bottle, but a closer look may change that view.

In examining these variations when alcohol is involved, patterns emerge. The aromas in alcoholic drinks cause specific affects within the brain’s reward responses. The genotype mention above plays a role in how the brain responds to certain alcohol aromas.

One corresponding author on this study, David A. Kareken, noted that the individual who repeatedly drinks alcohol learns to associate the appearance, taste and smell of the alcohol with its intoxicating properties. Think of Pavlov’s dog and the relationship is much the same.

Kareken highlighted that humans learn at the physiological level – just like the dog. He noted that the alcoholic smell would mean little to someone who does not drink. For the experienced drinker, however, they develop associations. And, for those who find the intoxicating effects of alcohol to be particularly rewarding, the sight or smell of alcohol can produce cravings.

The key element in this research is that the team did not study salivation, but instead the neural circuitry responsible for recognizing and encoding the presence of something considered to be rewarding. Researches also wanted to know if the presence of one type of gene made these cravings more common as a result of the sight or smell of alcohol.

They found the presence of the GABRA2 gene was linked with this physiological response to alcohol. Previous studies have shown this gene was more prevalent in those with alcohol problems, suggesting some individuals are genetically predisposed to alcoholism.