Alcoholism May Be Rooted in Your DNA

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Some people's genes make them like alcohol more than other people. (Pixabay)

If you’re one of those people who likes drinking more than everyone else, you might have an excuse: You have lazy genes.

Well, at least one lazy gene.

A new study out of the University of Valencia in Spain confirms something about Spaniards that scientists have known about Asians for a long time: People with a “lazy” version of the ADH1B gene find alcohol more enjoyable than people with a more efficient one.

People of Asian descent who enjoy alcohol more because of their genes are also more likely to suffer from alcoholism.  A recent study confirmed this in British and Irish people, as well.

The finding could  help counselors tailor treatments for people with alcoholism.


Why It's Lazy

A lazy gene means alcohol stays in your blood longer. (Wikimedia Commons)
A lazy gene means alcohol stays in your blood longer. (Wikimedia Commons)

There are a couple of different classes of genes that get rid of the alcohol once it gets into your bloodstream. The first set, which includes the ADH1B gene turns alcohol into something called acetaldehyde.

This is a nasty chemical that can turn your face red, make you sick to your stomach or cause your head to hurt. Our bodies get rid of this chemical using a second gene called ALDH2.

If you have the lazy version of ADH1B, alcohol gets turned into acetaldehyde at a leisurely pace. So leisurely that the second gene, ALDH2, has no trouble getting rid of it. There is no time for it to build up and so you only get the pleasurable effects of alcohol.

It is a different story if your ADH1B gene is a hard worker. In this case it can be so zealous that it converts alcohol into acetaldehyde too quickly for ALDH2 to handle. Now alcohol can be much less pleasurable because all that aldehyde is making you sick.

This is why people with the hard working version are less likely to suffer from alcoholism. And of course why people with the lazy version are more likely to keep drinking. They only have a positive physical reaction to drinking.

How to Tell if ADH1B Is Lazy

If you drink, you probably already know if you have a hardworking ADH1B gene. But if you want to see it in your DNA results, here’s how to do it with a personal genetics test like 23andMe.

First search for rs1229984 in the search box. Then click on the link with the same name and up will come the following:

starr graphic

The C versions are the lazy ones. So if you are CC (like in the image above), both copies of your ADH1B gene are lazy. This gene does nothing to affect your enjoyment of alcohol.

If you have one T, you have one hardworking gene; if you have two Ts, both of your copies are hardworking. You will probably not find alcohol as enjoyable as someone with two C's. But at least you are at a lower risk for alcoholism!

It is important to mention that not everyone with a lazy ADH1B gene will suffer from alcoholism. If this were true then most people of European descent would struggle with alcohol as most of them have this version of the gene.

No, having this version just makes you more likely to have trouble.

More Than One Gene

Of course ADH1B isn't the only gene involved in dealing with alcohol. Other genes, including the ALDH2 are important players too.

And some of these genes can come in lazy and hardworking copies too. Click here to learn more about the lazy version of ALDH2 and what having that does to your enjoyment of alcohol.