Scientific research teams at Kings College London have recently made some key discoveries which have led them to suspect that some individuals possess a gene inclining them towards binge drinking by boosting the levels of a “happy” brain chemical produced when alcohol is consumed.
The gene, which has been designated RASGRF-2, has already been suggested as being linked to alcoholism and drinking problems. The Kings College research team found that animals lacking the gene displayed much lower desires for alcohol than those possessing it. Scans of the brains of over 600 teenage boys also indicated that those who had a version of the gene exhibited a heightened dopamine response when undertaking tests designed to produce anticipation of a reward. The researchers later contacted the same group of boys when they were sixteen years of age to enquire about their drinking habits, and learned that those boys with the RASGRF-2 gene tended to drink more frequently than those without.
The leader of the team, Professor Gunter Schumann, pointed out that their findings are not proof that the gene causes binge drinking – as it is still likely that many other genetic and environmental factors are also involved – but do help to shed light on why some individuals appear more vulnerable to alcohol’s allure than others.
“This appears to be one gene that regulates how rewarding alcohol is for some people. 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.
“We now understand the chain of action: how our genes shape this function in our brains and how that, in turn, leads to human behaviour. We found that the RASGRF-2 gene plays a crucial role in controlling how alcohol stimulates the brain to release dopamine, and hence trigger the feeling of reward. So, if people have a genetic variation of the RASGRF-2 gene, alcohol gives them a stronger sense of reward, making them more likely to be heavy drinkers.”
He added that more work was needed to prove the theory since the study only examined young teenage boys, making it unsuitable for assessing any links with long-term drinking patterns. He did suggest, however, that in the future it might be possible to offer genetic screening to help predict those at higher risk of alcohol abuse, and that the findings of his team could even be used to produce a new type of drug which would block the “happy effect” that some people get from consuming alcohol.
Binge drinking is characterised by a large amount of alcohol being imbibed within a short space of time, often with the premier aim of “just getting drunk.” It is often common in those who have developed a tolerance for alcohol in smaller intake amounts due to prolonged heavy drinking but still carries many significant health risks. If you are familiar with someone who often resorts to binge drinking or just seems to take in more alcohol than seems healthy, give us a call today in complete confidence for free advice on alcohol addiction help and treatment for you or someone you care about.
Read the original news story on the BBC News website.