Researchers at King’s College London discovered that a gene known as RASGRF-2 may play a part in binge drinking.
In their tests, animals lacking this gene were less interested in alcohol than those with RASGRF-2. Scientists have also tested the genes effect in humans. 663 14 year old boys were tested for the gene and then their response to stimulus were monitored. At age 16, the same boys were asked about their drinking habits. The boys with the gene were observed to have a greater dopamine reward for drinking, and as a result, at age 16 they reported drinking more than the boys without the gene.
"If people have a genetic variation of the RASGRF-2 gene, alcohol gives them a stronger sense of reward, making them more likely to be heavy drinkers," said Gunter Schumann, who led the study at King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry.
This same reward system is responsible for the high people feel when they take drugs or have sex.
Because the gene seems to regulate peoples reward for alcohol, it could make them more susceptible to addiction. This is because people inherently seek out what makes them feel good. For those with the wrong genes alcohol could be a very hard thing to resist.
Schumann said, "We now understand the chain of action: how our genes shape this function in our brains and how that, in turn, leads to human behaviour. We found that the RASGRF-2 gene plays a crucial role in controlling how alcohol stimulates the brain to release dopamine, and hence trigger the feeling of reward. So, if people have a genetic variation of the RASGRF-2 gene, alcohol gives them a stronger sense of reward, making them more likely to be heavy drinkers."
More research is needed to better understand just what roll this gene plays in binge drinking behaviour but it could help reduce the negative effects of alcohol. Currently, about 5,000 teens are admitted to the hospital for alcohol related reasons each year in the UK.
More research could one day help people better understand how they will react to alcohol and allow doctors to warn people of potential risk factors for binge drinking or alcohol addiction.