Researchers Find Genes That May Be Able To Predict Alcoholism Risk

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Hand on DrinkAlcoholism affects countless families across the country but many agree a large amount of the damage from alcoholism could be avoided with education and preventing those who are at risk for alcohol addiction from ever getting started drinking. The problem is we currently have very limited means of predicting who is most likely to struggle with an alcoholism disorder, but researchers believe a panel of genes could change that completely.

A panel of 11 genes, or what is essentially a panel of 66 different variants of those genes, look to be useful in identifying people who are at increased risk for developing alcoholism. Additionally, these genes are also implicated with cocaine addiction, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, according to findings reported by Alexander Niculescu III, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at Indiana University, May 20 in Translational Psychiatry.

The researchers used data from a genomewide study of alcoholism and other data from previous alcoholism gene research to identify 134 candidate alcoholism genes. The team then compared these genes with others implicated in alcoholism in an animal model of the disease to narrow the candidate genes down to 11 genes, and specifically down to the particular 66 variants.

The team then evaluated whether the 11 genes and variants could distinguish subjects with known alcohol dependence from controls in a German and a U.S. study population. The German study involved 1,601 participants and the U.S. involved 4,029.

The findings show the panel of genes were significantly able to distinguish which subjects would experience alcohol dependence from controls in both groups. The researchers also saw, in another U.S. cohort study of 1,861 individuals, that the gene panel could significantly distinguish individuals with known alcohol abuse – a less severe form of alcoholism compared to alcohol dependence – from controls.

“Since alcoholism is a disease that does not exist if the exogenous agent [alcohol] is not consumed, the use of genetic information to inform lifestyle choices could be quite powerful,” they said in their report.

“The higher the genetic-risk prediction score, the higher the risk for alcoholism,” Niculescu explained in an interview with Psychiatric News. “Based on data from our American cohort of alcohol-dependent subjects and normal controls, the test was predictive at an individual level in 7 out of 10 people above a score of 48 (which was the average of alcohol-dependent subjects), and in 3 out of 4 people above a score of 60.”

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