Education, Income Moderate Genetic Influence on Alcohol Use

Posted on September 4th, 2015
Posted in Alcohol Abuse

Education, Income Moderate Genetic Influence on Alcohol UseNew findings from a team of American researchers indicate that an alcohol consumer’s socioeconomic status has a significant influence on the genetic factors that help determine the amount of alcohol he or she drinks.

All people in modern societies have a socioeconomic status determined by factors that include their income level, their education level and the type of job they hold. Broadly speaking, this status has a substantial impact on any given person’s lifestyle and life experiences. In a study published in March 2015 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers from two American universities looked at the influence that socioeconomic status has on the genetic factors that help predict the amount of alcohol an individual typically consumes during his or her drinking sessions.

Education, Income Moderate Genetic Influence on Alcohol Use

Your inherited genetic makeup has a considerable influence on your typical pattern of alcohol use and your chances of consuming alcohol in risky or problematic ways. However, in contrast to the oversimplified picture sometimes portrayed by news media, there is no such thing as a single “alcoholism gene.” Instead, dozens of genes in the human body have some sort of impact on alcohol-related risk. Some of these genes have an independent impact on overall risk, while others interact in highly complicated ways. In addition, certain versions of alcohol-related genes typically increase your chances for problems, while other versions of those genes typically decrease your chances.

Genetics can also influence the course of treatment for alcohol use disorder (alcoholism and/or non-addicted alcohol abuse). For example, some people have a genetic profile that reduces the effectiveness of an alcoholism medication called naltrexone, while others have a genetic profile that supports this medication’s usefulness in treatment. In addition, it’s important to note that current scientific evidence points to a strong environmental influence on the human body’s alcohol-related genes. In some cases, the impact of your life experiences may “trigger” any genetic predisposition for alcohol problems and increase your susceptibility to harm. In other cases, your life experiences may offset any genetic predisposition for alcohol problems and decrease your susceptibility to harm.

Socioeconomic Factors

The term socioeconomic status denotes the overlapping influences of social standing and financial or economic standing. On one level, socioeconomic status can be used to identify large-scale differences in social class (e.g., the rich, the middle class and the poor). However, on a more detailed level, any given person’s socioeconomic status has a substantial impact on a wide range of critical day-to-day factors, including such things as living environment, access to food resources, access to educational resources, access to medical resources, access to cultural resources and access to employment opportunities. Problems associated with relatively low socioeconomic status include poverty, low educational achievement and diminished mental and physical health.

Interaction With Genetic Alcohol Factors

In the study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers from the University of Minnesota and Purdue University used a long-term project involving 672 sets of twins to explore the ways in which socioeconomic status can influence genetic risks for alcohol problems. The twins enrolled in the project ranged in age from 25 to 74 and were drawn from another study called the MacArthur Foundation Survey of Midlife Development in the United States. For each participant, the researchers used two factors—educational achievement and family income—to determine socioeconomic status. For each individual, they also looked at three aspects of alcohol consumption: how often alcohol is consumed, how much alcohol is consumed and whether alcohol-related problems occur. In addition, the researchers created genetic and environmental alcohol-related risk profiles for all participants.

After analyzing their data, the researchers concluded that genetic factors affecting the amount of alcohol a person consumes have a stronger impact in individuals with relatively low socioeconomic status than in individuals with relatively high socioeconomic status. Both educational achievement level and family income level contribute to this status-based difference. Interestingly, the researchers found that socioeconomic status has only a negligible influence on genetic factors affecting how often a person drinks or how much exposure a person has to problematic alcohol use.

The study’s authors note that socioeconomic status also influences the strength of environmental factors that help determine how much alcohol a person consumes. Overall, they concluded that something other than socioeconomic status must influence the genetic and environmental factors for drinking frequency and level of exposure to alcohol problems.

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