A Rare Gene Could Increase Your Risk of Alcoholism

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

More than 18 million Americans are currently suffering from alcohol dependence. A new study from the U.K. suggests that alcohol addiction could be fueled by a rare gene variant.

A variant of the GRM3 gene, which is believed to be crucial in brain signaling, occurs in roughly one out of every 200 people. Researchers from the University College London (UCL) found that having this variant could greatly increase the risk of developing alcohol addiction, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Their project was published in the new issue of Psychiatric Genetics.

… having this variant could greatly increase the risk of developing alcohol addiction, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Details of the Study

Scientists made this bold conclusion after conducting a genetic analysis of 6,280 participants, 4,971 of whom were diagnosed with one of the three disorders and the remaining subjects being considered medically healthy. The findings were then matched with similar results from a separate UCL research project, which examined the genomes of 36,989 people who had developed schizophrenia and 113,075 otherwise healthy subjects. Although 108 different locations were associated to schizophrenia, the GRM3 gene was the only one to have a specific mutation identified with being responsible for the disorder.

These results could ultimately spur new medical treatments developed to address alcohol abuse disorders.

These results could ultimately spur new medical treatments developed to address alcohol abuse disorders. Many of the current methods revolve around the activity of the chemical dopamine, which helps transmit signals between brain cells and can also increase feelings of motivation, reward and pleasure. Alcohol use initially increases dopamine levels, but alcohol withdrawal can lead to a sharp drop in production of this chemical.


Professor David Curtis, co-author of the latest UCL project, emphasized that “we could be looking at the next big drug target.”

These findings could also spur future changes to treatment for alcohol abuse disorders. While traumatic life experiences, or other conditions such as depression, often fuel a drinking problem, addressing the genetic components first might make it much easier to address the other underlying sources.

Alternative Treatments for Alcohol Abuse Disorders

59 percent of participants given a single dose of LSD showed improvements in their drinking habits months later…
Unconventional methods of treating alcoholism have been examined in recent years. A paper published in the March 2012 issue of the Journal of Psychopharmacology claimed that a single dose of LSD could be helpful in treating addiction. Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s department of neuroscience examined six trials from the ‘60s and ‘70s, finding that 59 percent of participants given one dose of LSD showed improvements in drinking habits months later, compared with 38 percent of the subjects who didn’t take LSD.

What Do You Think?


Should LSD and other experimental drugs should be used in treatment?

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