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Genes Define Adolescent Drinking

Update Date: Oct 19, 2013 02:27 PM EDT

The amount and reasons for drinking in adolescence may be linked to a combination of genes and environmental surroundings according to a new study. 

"It has been estimated that 40 percent of adult alcoholics were already heavy drinkers during adolescence," Carmen Van der Zwaluw, an assistant professor at Radboud University Nijmegen and corresponding research author, said in a news release. "Thus, tackling heavy drinking in adolescence may prevent later alcohol-related problems."

According to researcher Zwaluw, individuals with the dopamine receptor D2 (DRD2) and OPRM1 genes are more likely to like the feelings of pleasure from drinking.

"For example, OPRM1 G-allele carriers have been shown to experience more positive feelings after drinking, and to drink more often to enhance their mood than people with the OPRM1 AA genotype," said Zwaluw.

For the study, researchers used data from the Dutch Family and Health study, looking at information from 596 adolescents born in the Netherlands. 50 % of the 596 were boys. The adolescents' age were ranged from an average of 14.3- 19.7 years. 

Saliva samples from the subjects were used in order to adhere to genetic testing. Participants were divided into groups based on their level of drinking; light drinkers (n=346), moderate drinkers (n=178), and heavy drinkers (n=72).

Researchers found that, "Comparisons between these three groups showed that light drinkers were more often carriers of the OPRM1 AA 'non-risk' genotype, and reported stricter parental rules than moderate drinkers," according to the study. "In the heavy drinking group, the G-allele carriers, but not those with the AA-genotype, were largely affected by parental rules: more rules resulted in lower levels of alcohol use."

Researchers believe that parental monitoring is crucial in impacting the decision adolescents make when choosing how much and why they drink.

"This study shows that strict parental rules prevent youth from drinking more alcohol," said Zwaluw. "However, one should keep in mind that every adolescent responds differently to parenting efforts, and that the effects of parenting may depend on the genetic make-up of the adolescent."

The findings are published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

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