This is the blog for GW students taking Human Evolutionary Genetics. This site is for posting interesting tidbits on: the patterns and processes of human genetic variation;human origins and migration; molecular adaptations to environment, lifestyle and disease; ancient and forensic DNA analyses; and genealogical reconstructions.

GWHEG figure

GWHEG figure

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Is it really the environment that causes alcoholism?

For a long time, it has been hard to determine if there is an exact gene prone to causing alcoholism. It is in fact a myth that one single gene that leads to addiction or 'addictive personalities.' There is no single gene or factor that causes alcoholism or any type of addiction to substances but in fact a variety of factors from influences in early childhood to a number genes or lack of genes that can lead to addictive tendencies. Genetics clearly play a huge factor in addiction. Children who's biological parents are prone to alcoholism are 3-5 times more likely to develop an addiction even when raised by parents with non-alcoholic traits. One gene attributed to alcohol prevention is ALDH2, which has statistically demonstrated that the individual carrier is nine times less likely to develop alcoholism. Still, environment shows a clear impact on the development on addictive behaviours. For example, in Japan between 1972-1996 alcoholism has risen from 2.5%-13% in the overall population as drinking has become more as heavy-drinking culture has developed among business men. Epigenetic factors are also huge in the development of alcoholism as they can switch on regulatory factors of the brain that can lead to problems later in life as the child develops without the genes switching off when they should. Childhood trauma such as severe stress early in life can double the risks of developing alcoholism.

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