Binge drinking negates protective gene

A gene variant has been shown to protect against alcohol use disorders (AUD) but any genetic protection may be lost for life in teens who binge drink, a study finds.

Explaining the interplay between ‘peer drinking’ and genetic risk, lead author Dr Emily Olfson says the “modifiable risk factor of ‘best friends drinking’ eliminates the protective effects of the ADH1B variant for the development of adolescent drinking behaviours”.

Previous studies have shown that this ADH1B variant has a strong protective effect on developing alcohol use disorders in adulthood.

But Dr Olfson says their analyses extend these findings by demonstrating that adolescents with this ADH1B variant develop early drinking milestones (including at least one episode of alcohol intoxication and at least one symptom of alcohol use disorder) at approximately half the rate as adolescents without this protective ADH1B variant.

“While the ADH1B variant had a protective effect on adolescent drinking milestones among youth who reported that none or few of their best friends drink, this genetic protective effect was eliminated among youth who reported that most or all of their best friends drink,” says Dr Olfson, an MD-PhD student from Washington University School of Medicine.

Dr Olfson adds that adolescent genetic risk factors are more fully expressed in environments with low parental monitoring and high alcohol availability, along with the presence of friends, particularly close friends, who drink.

Published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, the researach looked at 1,500 European and African-American individuals who were drinking before the age of 18, since the ADH1B variant is expected to exhibit a protective effect only in response to alcohol consumption.