Scientists believe that studying our genetic makeup could help solve the nation’s problem of alcohol abuse. Those that possess a gene, known as RASGRF-2, are believed to be more susceptible to binge-drinking, due to it boosting levels of a happy brain chemical when alcohol is consumed.
Researchers say that this knowledge will potentially be used to identify children who are at risk of alcohol abuse later in life. Professor Gunter Schumann of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London said “Identifying risk factors for early alcohol abuse is important in designing prevention and treatment interventions for alcohol addiction.”
Brain scan studies of 663 teenage boys indicated that the gene played an important role in predisposing individuals to drinking excessively; those with a version of the gene had heightened dopamine responses in tests.
During a task designed to make the 14-year-old participants anticipate a reward, they had excessive activity in a part of the brain called the ventral striatum, which is known to be involved in dopamine release.
The researchers then contacted the participants two years later, only to find that those who possessed the RASGRF-2 gene, and that responded to the earlier tests, drank more frequently.
Professor Schumann said “People seek out situations which fulfil their sense of reward and make them happy, so if your brain is wired to find alcohol rewarding, you will seek it out.”
Patricia Conrod of the University of Montreal said that studying ones genetic makeup can determine if a person is predisposed to the thrill-seeking behaviour that can lead to drug or alcohol addiction.
“There are a multitude of genes that are contributing to addiction and in this study we’ve found one that appears to be involved in responding to the sense of anticipation of a reward,” Dr Conrod said.