Genetic Variations May Increase Risk of Alcoholism

By Staff Writer

Variations in a certain gene may cause changes in areas of the brain and predispose individuals to alcoholism and impulsive behavior, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Michigan.

The team found that variations in the GABRA2 gene cause alterations to a part of the brain’s cerebral cortex called the insula, an area involved in cravings and anxiety.

For the study, researchers surveyed 449 people about their alcohol use, took genetic tests for the gene variation and used MRI scans to look at different regions of their brains. They found that GABRA2 alterations were strong predictors of both heavy alcohol use and insula differences.

Previous studies have connected the insula to a person’s risk of addiction, the researchers said. Finding the genetic cause of differences that predispose individuals to alcoholism could lead to improved treatments in the future.

Despite the importance of their findings, the researchers stressed that genetic and neurological factors alone do not dictate whether or not a person will abuse alcohol. Understanding the mental and social factors that lead to addiction could help more people avoid the condition.