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Is drinking in your genes?

It’s a great Australian tradition to catch up with friends over a few drinks, or kick back after a hard day’s work with a cold beer.  However, enjoying a regular tipple can feel a bit more of a necessity for some people than others.

Hangovers aside, alcohol can have a big impact on your health. Over consumption of alcohol can lead to depression, weight gain and damage to your organs – which all lead to even more serious health complications.

Alcohol consumption accounts for 9% of the disease burden in developed countries such as Australia.  It is linked to more than 60 diseases, including many types of cancers, cardiovascular diseases, liver cirrhosis, neuropsychiatric disorders, injuries, and fetal alcohol syndrome.

We are often told that we can enjoy alcohol in moderation.  Our social groups, lifestyle and behaviour can all impact on how much we drink and how regularly we drink.  However, there is now evidence there is another factor in play as to why some people drink more and more often than others…drinking is in your genes.

As part of an international alliance, Professor Nick Martin from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research’s Genetic Epidemiology Laboratory has been working to investigate the how genes influence the amount you drink.

“While we know that social and lifestyle factors play an important part in forming people’s drinking behaviours, we now understand there is also an important genetic component,” said Professor Martin.

“As part of our research, we have identified a gene that appears to play a role in regulating how much alcohol people drink.

“Our research team has found that a small genetic change can lead to an increased consumption of alcohol.”

The gene identified is called autism susceptibility candidate 2, or AUTS2, and has previously been linked to autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“We studied 47,000 people and found there are two versions of the AUTS2 gene; one type is three times more common than the other. People with the less common version drink on average 5% less alcohol than people with the more common version.

“The gene is most active in parts of the brain associated with reward mechanisms, which suggests that it might play a part in the positive feelings that people have when they drink alcohol.

“We are excited to have made this discovery because finding a common genetic variation which influences levels of alcohol consumption as this may help us better understand drinking in the general population.”


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