Heredity linked to subjective effects of alcohol

Scientists have known for a long time that people who have a close relative who is an alcoholic have a much better chance of abusing the sauce.

That means your drunken uncle’s antics might rub off on you someday. And like he says: a pint a day keeps the sober away.


Now, nobody knows the reason for this, but a new study from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, delivers part of the answer. The study indicates that people who have a close relative who is a drunk respond more positively to alcohol than other people.


The study is published in the science journal Alcohol: Clinical & Experimental Research and it is the first to have examined a large group of people who have a close family member with type I alcoholism. Earlier research in the field has been built around a more limited population, such as sons of alcoholic fathers.


There happen to be two kinds of alcoholism, type I and type II. Type I alcoholism depends mostly on the interaction of genetic factors with the environment, like social environments and life events, while type II alcohol abuse involves a large genetic risk of developing alcoholism, separate from the environment.


“The study is unique in the way in which we have studied how children of type I alcoholics experience the effects of alcohol and compared this with the experiences of the control group, which consisted of people who had no history of alcohol abuse in the family. The group of people who were children of type I alcoholics were healthy and had no mental health problems, and they did not have alcohol problems themselves”, says Anna Söderpalm-Gordh, scientist at the Sahlgrenska Academy.


The scientists administered reasonable amounts of either alcohol or placebo in the form juice to a group of 51 participants, 34 men and 17 women. The drink that a participant received was determined randomly. Twenty-nine of the participants belonged to the control group, while 22 were part of the group that had a member of the family with type I alcoholism. The members of both groups then explained how they experienced the effects of the alcohol.


The scientists found that participants who had a family member with type I alcoholism reported more positive and stimulating effects from drinking alcohol than those in the control group. These individuals also felt the need to drink more alcohol than those in the group without any heredity effects. This supports the popular hypothesis that children of type I alcoholics are born with some form of positive experience of drinking alcohol.


Those with alcoholism in their blood are more likely to have a few drinks and feel like they are just getting started. It’s hard for some people to drink just one.


“These results show that some of us are more responsive to the rewarding effects of alcohol: we react to alcohol more strongly and more positively than others. This can, in turn, lead to increased consumption and a greater risk of alcohol abuse. The results also suggest that children of type I alcoholics, who have been considered to run a smaller hereditary risk of developing alcohol addiction, may be in the danger zone for developing alcoholism”, says Anna Söderpalm-Gordh.


She thinks that these results are significant, especially against the background of the fact that around 40% of the population of Sweden have a close family member who has problems with alcohol. But surely most of you already knew that Europeans (and everyone else) love to drink right?


“Be aware of how you react to alcohol. You should consider cutting down and not drinking as much as other people if you notice that you experience alcohol as more positive than your friends,” she says, and continues:

“Each person’s individual experience of alcohol is an important tool in understanding why certain people develop alcoholism and it may be a marker in itself for how an individual’s alcohol consumption may develop. Our discovery is part of the preventative work that can help a certain group of people who run the risk of drinking too much alcohol.”

So if you drink a beer and you feel a sense of enjoyment, you should probably be worried. Because it sounds like those who enjoy alcohol might have no ability to control their intake. What a bummer, the happiness that comes from beer seems to be a medical condition.

Personal choices be damned, we can just blame it all on genetics!