Saturday, 26 May 2012

How Genes Affect the Alcohol Use of Adolescents

Binge drinking and alcohol abuse is known to be a regular habit for many adolescents. According to the Australian Medical Association (2009), 39.2% of Australian adolescents (aged 14-19) reported acts of binge drinking in 2007. As such, studying the science of why binge drinking occurs is particularly relevant to today’s society. Through many previous scientific studies it has been found that this behaviour is related to genes. In more recent studies however, scientists have been able to determine which specific genotypes relate to these dangerous drinking habits. For example, some previous studies found that the genotypes hypothesised as relevant to alcohol consumption, the SLC6A4 neurotransmitter transporter and the DRD2 dopamine receptor, affected alcohol use whereas other previous studies found evidence contradicting these results. This blog aims to provide information on the recent scientific paper by Van der Zwaluw et al. (2011) which studied these genotypes alongside adolescent drinking motives and in particular, drinking to cope, to further examine the relationship between genetics and alcohol use.

An important factor in adolescent drinking behaviours is their drinking motives. The motives found to be related to adolescent’s drinking were enhancement, social, conformity and coping motives. Those who drank to cope were found to be more responsive to stress and have higher levels of problematic alcohol use than those who drank for any other reason. Van der Zwaluw et al. (2011) studied these drinking motives to compare the effect they have on alcohol use compared to the genotypes, SLC6A4 and DRD2.

Both of the studied genotypes, SLC6A4 and DRD2, have functions which relate to emotions and feelings. The SLC6A4 genotype has been previously linked to anxiety, depression and other disorders whilst the DRD2 genotype’s function is to control the body’s emotions and positive reinforcement. By studying the functions and different variants of these genotypes, scientists have been able to find a theoretical link between specific variants of the DRD2 and SLC6A4 genotypes and alcohol consumption.

The recent study by Van der Zwaluw et al. (2011) found that there was no significant relationship between alcohol consumption and the SLC6A4 and DRD2 genotypes. Hence, this recent study contradicts previous studies and the theoretical link between these genotypes and alcohol consumption. However, by also studying the drinking motives of the adolescents, it was found that drinking to cope did significantly affect alcohol use and was linked to alcohol-related problems. This link between drinking to cope and alcohol-related problems in adolescents was increased by the DRD2 genotype. As such, the DRD2 genotype did affect alcohol use but only for specific drinking motives. These findings demonstrate that alcohol use is more affected by drinking motives, such as drinking to cope, than it is by these specific genotypes. Therefore, it can be concluded that, until future research is conducted, there is no significant and direct relationship between genes and alcohol use.
Reference List
Australian Medical Association 2009, Alcohol Use and  Harms in Australia (2009) – Information Paper, viewed 17 March 2012, <>.

Kristensen, AS, Anderson, J, Jorgensen, TN, Sorensen, L, Eriksen, J, Loland, CJ, Stromgaard, K & Gether, U 2011, ‘SLC6 Neurotransmitter Transporters: Structure, Function, and Regulation’, Pharmacological Reviews, vol. 63, no. 3, pp.585-640, viewed 10 March 2012, <>.

Missale, C, Nash, SR, Robinson, SW, Jaber, M & Caron, MG 1998, ‘Dopamine Receptors: From Structure to Function’, Physiological Reviews, vol. 78, no. 1, pp.189-225, viewed 10 March 2012, <>.

Van der Zwaluw, CS, Kuntsche, E & Engels, RC 2011, ‘Risky Alcohol Use in Adolescence: The Role of Gentics (DRD2, SLC6A4) and Coping Motives’, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, vol. 35, no. 4, pp. 756-764, viewed 5 March 2012, <>. 

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