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Environment key early: Genes' role expands in alcohol dependence
Date:4/23/2008

Sartor's team collected alcohol-use histories from telephone interviews to determine when these women made transitions from one drinking milestone to the next. They studied twins to get an idea of the genetic influences on those transitions. Identical twins share 100 percent of their genetic material, and fraternal twins share about half. So when identical twin pairs are found to be more similar on a given behavior than fraternal twin pairs, this suggests that genetics are playing a role in that behavior. The researchers used this twin-based design to estimate the contributions of genes-versus-environment to the rate at which women progressed through stages of alcohol use.

"Alcohol dependence is a psychiatric disorder, but drinking alcohol in moderation is normative and is a part of many cultural traditions," Sartor explains. "For example, 85 percent of women in our study reported having at least one drink in their lifetimes whereas only about 7 percent became alcohol dependent."

Past studies have focused more on men than women, but Sartor says it is important to study both sexes because risk factors that contribute to alcohol problems differ somewhat between males and females. She also says this study helps to dispel the myth that alcohol dependence is a disorder exclusive to middle-aged men. In the United States, the prevalence of alcohol use disorders is highest among 18- to 29-year-olds.

"Much of the heavy drinking that occurs in the young adult years is actually problem drinking," she explains. "What once was perceived as partying a little too much is now being recognized as a potentially serious problem."

The majority of the young women in the study curtailed their drinking before it advanced from a normal behavior to a psychiatric disorder.

The researchers plan to extend their investigations to examine genetics and environment on other drinking behaviors, such as the cessation of alcohol use. Many problem drinkers
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Contact: Jim Dryden
jdryden@wustl.edu
314-286-0110
Washington University School of Medicine
Source:Eurekalert

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