A new analysis has identified 29 genetic variants that are linked to problem drinking. The multi-institutional study, led by the Yale University School of Medicine, was focused on the genomes of 435,000 individuals with European ancestry.
“The new data triple the number of known genetic risk loci associated with problematic alcohol use,” said study senior author Professor Joel Gelernter.
The researchers analyzed the complete DNA sets, or genomes, of Europeans that were contained in four separate datasets.
The experts looked for common genetic variants among individuals who met criteria for problematic alcohol use, such as a history of alcohol use disorder or alcohol use with medical consequences.
Disorders associated with problem drinking are major contributors to a range of medical problems, including heart disease, liver disease, stroke, and certain cancers.
The Yale team pinpointed 19 independent genetic risk factors for problematic alcohol use that were previously unknown, and confirmed 10 known risk factors.
The data used in the meta-analysis included information on genetic risk factors for several psychiatric disorders. This made it possible for the researchers to examine genetic links between problematic drinking and disorders such as depression and anxiety.
The experts also determined that heritability of the genetic variants associated with problem drinking was reinforced in the brain and in regulatory regions of the genome that are conserved throughout evolution.
The team used a technique called Mendelian randomization to investigate how one genetically influenced trait affects another genetically linked trait.
“This gives us ways to understand causal relations between problematic alcohol use traits such as psychiatric states, risk-taking behavior, and cognitive performance,” said study lead author Hang Zhou.
Professor Gelernter said the findings of the research will ultimately help experts evaluate the risk for problematic alcohol use on an individual level.
The study was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience.