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Genetic Background of Social Drinking

Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, published a very interesting paper focusing on the genetic background of social drinking. Specific gene variants might increase the risk for extensive alcohol use or abuse when spending time with heavy-drinking peers. An excerpt from Medical News Today:

Drinking alcohol increases levels of dopamine – a brain chemical that causes pleasure and makes us feel good. The dopamine D4 receptor gene (DRD4) has been shown to be involved in motivation of seeking out rewards. Research has suggested that carrying a specific form (or variant) of this gene – one that includes seven or more repeats of a certain section of the gene – may be associated with craving caused by alcohol-related cues. Psychological scientist Helle Larsen from Radboud University in The Netherlands and her colleagues wanted to investigate if this 7-repeat gene variant plays a role in how an individual responds to alcohol-related cues.

The results showed an effect between how much the confederate drank and the gene variant on volunteers’ alcohol consumption: When the confederate was seen consuming three or four drinks, carriers of the 7-repeat form of the gene drank more than twice as many glasses of alcohol than did noncarriers of the gene variant. However, when the confederate consumed only one drink, there was no difference in alcohol consumption between carriers and noncarriers. These findings suggest that individuals carrying this form of the DRD4 gene may be more sensitive than noncarriers to other people’s drinking behavior.

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