Genetic Risks for Smoking Linked to Alcohol, Marijuana Use

Genetic Risks for Smoking Linked to Alcohol, Marijuana Use

Genetic Risks for Smoking Linked to Alcohol, Marijuana Use

Genetic Risks for Smoking Linked to Alcohol, Marijuana UseGenetic factors can help determine which people start smoking cigarettes, as well as which smokers eventually get addicted to nicotine. Rather than stemming from the actions of a single gene, smoking-related risks stem from the complex interaction of multiple genes. In a study published in July 2014 in the journal Addiction, researchers from the Netherlands and the U.S. used a large-scale project to help determine if the scores on genetic tests for cigarette use can also help predict which people will get involved in the use of alcohol or some form of cannabis (marijuana, hashish or hashish oil). 

Smoking, Drinking and Cannabis Use

According to figures compiled through annual surveys conducted by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana are the three most commonly used legal or illegal substances in the U.S. The most recent results available from SAMHSA show that alcohol is used by more than 50 percent of American adults and teenagers in the average year, with peak rates of use (60-plus percent) occurring among a broad range of adults between the ages of 21 and 44. Each month, roughly 22 percent of all teens and adults smoke cigarettes; the peak rate of monthly use (34.1 percent) occurs in young adults between the ages of 21 and 25, although the rate of use among adults between the ages of 26 and 29 is only slightly lower. Nearly 19 million teens and adults use marijuana (by far the most widely consumed cannabis product) per year. As with cigarettes and alcohol, young adults are common marijuana users.

Smoking, Addiction and Genetics

Numerous research teams have explored the genetic roots of smoking participation and nicotine addiction. For example, in 2013, a team of researchers from the U.S. and New Zealand relied on a four-decade-long examination of 1,000 New Zealand residents to explore the usefulness of a genetic profile designed to identify those individuals with the highest risks of getting involved in problematic smoking behaviors. These researchers concluded that the profile they developed is helpful in pinpointing those people most likely to start smoking habitually after taking up cigarette use in adolescence, as well as in pinpointing those most likely to smoke at least a pack a day, most likely to develop an addiction to nicotine and most likely to unsuccessfully attempt to stop smoking.

Prediction of Cannabis and Alcohol Use

In the study published in Addiction, researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the Netherlands’ VU University and Neuroscience Campus Amsterdam used information from a large-scale project conducted by a group called the Tobacco and Genetics Consortium (TAG) to determine if the genetic risks for smoking overlap with the chances that a person will drink or use cannabis. Specific information gathered included whether a given individual had started smoking, the individual’s age at the time smoking began, the individual’s average level of daily cigarette intake and relative rates of success when trying to quit. After identifying a group of genes associated with increased odds for smoking in the thousands of TAG participants, the researchers tested their newly developed risk profile on a second group of 1,583 people and also gauged this second group’s level of alcohol and cannabis consumption.

After comparing the genetic profiles for smoking to each person’s level of involvement in drinking and cannabis use, the researchers came to several conclusions. First, they concluded that the same genetic scores that predict how many cigarettes a person will smoke each day also partially predict whether that person will use cannabis, in addition to partially predicting how much alcohol he or she will consume in a given week. In addition, the researchers concluded that the genetic risks for taking up smoking at any particular age also partially predict the age at which a person will become a regular alcohol consumer. Conversely, they concluded that the genetic predictors for two other smoking factors—any level of involvement in cigarette use and relative success in quitting smoking—do not help predict alcohol or cannabis intake.

The study’s authors found that, overall, there is significant overlap between smoking-related genetic risks and the odds of drinking and/or using cannabis. However, they also found that the specific details of a smoker’s genetic makeup can exert some minor influence on the chances of using the other two substances.

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