A recent article suggests that some people may have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. Dr Alexander Niculescu and his team, identified 11 “risk” genes (1) that can predict which people are more at prone to becoming alcoholic. For those with a family history of alcoholism, the danger is even greater. All of this can be detected with a simple genetic test.
“Having a family history already suggests that there is a genetic risk that’s being transmitted. Those people should not expose themselves to temptation and drink even small amounts, as they are more prone to go down a slippery slope of higher amounts of alcohol and full-blown alcoholism,” Dr Niculescu said.
Dr Niculescu said these gene variants also have a lot to do with drive and compulsions, which can be used for positive things like professional achievement. “What we are discovering at the biological level is that there is this physiological robustness and drive that goes hand in hand with predisposition or compulsion to alcoholism and if you manage to avoid getting sucked into alcoholism and just use your biological endowments and drive for other things, you might be an overachiever in other areas.”
In the conclusion to the article it states that it is likely at its core a disease of an exogenous agent (alcohol) modulating different mind domains/dimensions (anxiety, mood and cognition) precipitated by environmental stress on a background of genetic vulnerability (2).
In simple language, this is what we have been suggesting in this blog. Alcohol acts on underlying mechanisms relating to anxiety, mood, cognition, which we view under the umbrella term of emotional regulation and processing deficits.
It also shows how genetic vulnerability may overlap with other psychiatric disorders, overlap does not mean the same as.
The oft cited co-morbidities which supposedly co-occur alongside alcoholism are in fact not co-morbidity in our view but intrinsic to the condition. Although this argument and article at least acknowledges there is a growing debate about what constitutes co-morbidity and pathology in alcoholism.
For us alcoholism is these so-called “co-morbidities” mixed with the deleterious effects of chronic alcohol on these deficits and which are commonly exacerbated pre-morbidity or before the actual start of alcohol use by traumatising or distressing early childhood experiences which have been known to result in both stress and emotional dysregulation which in turns leads to a heightening of the rewarding effect of alcohol (or drugs) as stress chemicals increase dopamine in reward networks such as the nucleus accumbens. Alcoholics find a “solution” to their emotional difficulties in the the heightened, calming effects of alcohol and eventually find in the course of time and chronic use that they cannot do without it.
For us genetically, this research is showing what manifestly, in terms of emotional and behavioural problems, is being shown by cognitve, affective and clinical neuroscience.
It also explains why so many recovering alcoholics surprise us and themselves, especially those underachievers at school of which I am one, with their vigour, intelligence and achievements in recovery once they have climbed out of their own personal hell of active alcoholism.
It also explains how they physically survived ordeals which would have killed most.
Levey, D. F., Le-Niculescu, H., Frank, J., Ayalew, M., Jain, N., Kirlin, B., … & Niculescu, A. B. (2014). Genetic risk prediction and neurobiological understanding of alcoholism. Translational psychiatry, 4(5), e391.
Niculescu AB 3rd, Schork NJ, Salomon DR. Mindscape: a convergent perspective on life, mind, consciousness and happiness. J Affect Disord2010; 123: 1–8. |