Alcoholism and Genetics

Alcoholism or alcohol dependence is impaired control over drinking, preoccupation with drinking withdrawal symptoms, and/or high tolerance to alcohol. Approximately 100,000 deaths per year associated to alcoholism. Nearly fourteen million Americans, have an alcohol problem. Probability of inheriting, genetic potential for alcoholism (disease) is about fifty percent, whether one or both parents are alcoholic. Studies conclude, a link between alcoholism, and various genes.

Published in January 2004, Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research: Dr. Danielle Dick, assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine, in St. Louis, studied 2,283 people, from 262 alcoholic families. Researchers studied fifteen chromosomes (carrier of genetic information), which contain genes (segments of DNA – deoxyribonucleic acid) that control the movement of the brain chemical, called ‘GABA,’ between neurons. One of these genes, referred to “GABRG3,’ was found statistically linked with alcoholism, in effected families. This neurotransmitter gene is a receptor or molecule for gamma-amino buyric acid – a message-carrying chemical. However, ‘GABRG3’ does not guarantee, individual will always be receptive to alcoholism. Unknown factor is how the changes in ‘GABA’ gene, increase a person’s risk of alcoholism.

Howard J. Edenburg, professor of biochemistry molecular biology, and molecular genetics, at Indiana University of School of Medicine, organized a team of researchers. They studied 1,547 families, which found (2004) one gene raises the risk of alcoholism. The gene acts on GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) – the body’s natural tranquilizer, which is an amino acid produce in the brain. Brain inhibitory neurotransmitter slows down the firing of certain brain nerves. Alcohol increases the ability of the neurotransmitter, to calm neural circuits.

D-2 dopamine receptors in the brain, when stimulated by alcohol, provides pleasure or ‘buzz.’ When number of D-2 receptors is depleted, addicts will increase their intake, since the D-2 receptors are few in number, to promote pleasure response. Colleagues at Brookhaven National Laboratory, study of ‘alcoholic lab rats, found that restoring the depleted D-2 receptors in rats, with a gene, will reduce the craving for alcohol. Three days after, gene was introduced, a twenty-percent reduction for craving alcohol. After the gene therapy stopped, a week later, those rats resumed their intake of alcohol.

In 2004, Subhash C. Pandey, Ph.D., a psychiatrist with the University of Illinois at Chicago, studied CREB gene (Produces a protein CREB – which regulates brain function, during development and learning. Also, CREB is gene present, in the process of alcohol tolerance, dependence, and withdrawal symptoms. CREB gene is found in the central amygdala (Section of the brain, associated to arousal, control autonomic responses associated to fear, emotional response, and hormonal secretion)). CREB and central amygdala, have been linked with withdrawal and anxiety. Less amount of CREB, in the central amygdla, studied rates, had increased anxiety behavior, and preference to alcohol. Deficiency of CREB gene, rats increased drinking fifty-percent more alcohol, and anxiety behavior was higher. Conclusion of Pandey studies: “Indicate that the CREB or alcoholism gene is “crucial” to the anxiety relief that triggers alcohol addiction.”

During 153 annual meeting, of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), Patricia I. Ordonica, MD, research work linked genetics’ to alcoholism. The study examined group of alcoholics, and found that 2.5 times more likely to have ‘OPRIMI’ gene. This gene is a version of molecule known to trap chemical impulses in the brain, which may explain why some people are more prone, to become addicted to alcohol. Further studies of “OPRIMI’ gene, determined that smokers are no more likely to have the substance in their bodies, which further links to alcoholism. Former President of APA – Allan Tasman, MD, believes that several genetic traits work together, which lead alcoholism disease.

Certain drugs help alohoiics against drinking: Antabuse (disulfiram) – Makes people feel sick when they drink, Naltrexone reduces the craving for alcohol, and Acamprosate (Campral) helps reduce alcohol craving.