Genes May Determine Susceptibility to Social Drinking Cues

Genes May Determine Susceptibility to Social Drinking Cues

A new study has found that your genes influence the ways in which you respond to environmental social drinking cues such as alcohol advertisements and seeing other people drinking. The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, was conducted by Helle Larsen from Radboud University in the Netherlands and her colleagues.

Alcohol consumption increases the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine into the brain, which creates a pleasurable feeling. The dopamine D4 receptor gene (DRD4) seems to be involved in reward-seeking behavior, and previous research suggests that people who carry a variant of this gene (one that includes seven or more repeats of a certain section of the gene) may be more prone to experiencing cravings caused by drinking cues.

In the study, participants were brought into a makeshift pub and were asked to rate a series of commercials. After rating some commercials, participants were told there would be a 30-minute break and that they could have any alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks at the bar. Those who knew what the study was about (confederates) were told to order alcoholic drinks immediately, and the researchers looked at which participants followed their lead. Saliva samples were also taken from participants for DNA analysis.

The researchers found that when the confederate was seen having three to four alcoholic beverages, participants with the 7-repeat form of the gene drank twice as much alcohol as those without the gene. But when the confederate had only one drink, there was no difference in consumption between those with the gene variant and those without. This suggests that people with the DRD4 variant gene may be more influenced by social drinking cues, which would increase the risk of developing an alcohol-use disorder.

The authors noted that the risk is especially higher for those with the variant gene when spending time with peers who drink heavily.

Sources: Science Daily, Can I Buy You a Drink? Genetics May Determine Sensitivity to Other People’s Drinking Behavior, July 23, 2010

Psych Central, Rick Nauert, PhD, Genetics Influence Drinking Decisions, July 23, 2010

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