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Teen Behaviors Stem From Genetics, Environment

When it comes to drinking and acting out, genes alone aren't destiny, study finds

THURSDAY, July 16 (HealthDay News) -- Teens' alcohol use and behavior problems are influenced by both genetic and environmental factors, a new study finds.

"In the past, research on genetic and environmental influences on behavior was often conducted in isolation," researcher Danielle Dick, an assistant professor of psychiatry, psychology, and human and molecular genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University, said in a news release.

"Some scientists were interested in genetic effects, others in environmental effects. We now know that both genetic and environmental influences are important for most behavioral outcomes, and our challenge is to understand how they interact," she explained.

"Much of the research on environmental influences on alcohol use and behavior problems focuses on the impact of parents and peers," Dick added. "While these are clearly critical environmental influences, we have also found that socio-regional, or neighborhood influences, also have big impacts on adolescent behavioral outcomes, and these environmental effects have not received as much attention historically."

In this study, Dick and colleagues analyzed long-term data gathered on more than 5,000 twins born in Finland between 1983 and 1987. The researchers focused on how genetic and environmental factors influenced behavior problems at age 12 and alcohol use at age 14.

They found that certain environments promoted the expression of a teens' genetic predispositions, while other environments limited gene expression.

The study, which appears online, will be published in the October print issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

"There is now converging evidence across a number of different studies that behavioral problems in kids are associated with both concurrent and future alcohol problems," Dick said. "There is evidence accumulating from genetic studies that behavior problems may be one of the first signs of an individual at increased susceptibility for developing alcohol problems."

An important message from this kind of research is that a person's destiny isn't written in their genes, the authors noted.

"We're not all equally predisposed to develop alcohol or behavior problems, and the environment can be a key factor in whether or not an individual ever develops problems," Dick said.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about children and alcohol.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, news release, July 16, 2009

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