30 May 2020

Scientists spot more genes linked to problem drinking

According to a recent study, new data triple the number of known genetic risk loci associated with problematic alcohol use.

It was already known that genetics can play a role in drinking problems, but now researchers have identified additional gene variants that could help identify many more at-risk people.

The team conducted a genome-wide analysis of more than 435 000 people of European ancestry to look for shared gene variants among people with problem drinking.

The researchers pinpointed 19 new gene variants, along with 10 previously known ones, according to the study published on 25 May in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

"The new data triple the number of known genetic risk loci associated with problematic alcohol use," said study senior author Joel Gelernter, a professor of psychiatry, genetics and neuroscience at Yale University School of Medicine.

Risk for problematic alcohol use

For the study, the researchers analysed genetic data from four biobanks, which also included information on genetic risk factors for several mental health disorders. This meant they could examine shared genetic associations between problem drinking and mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.

In the study, the researchers also investigated how one genetically linked trait affects another genetically linked trait.

"This gives us ways to understand causal relations between problematic alcohol use traits such as psychiatric states, risk-taking behaviour, and cognitive performance," said study lead author Hang Zhou, an associate research scientist in psychiatry at Yale.

"With these results, we are also in a better position to evaluate individual-level risk for problematic alcohol use," Gelernter explained in a Yale news release.

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