One of the most important, but unanswered questions in addiction research is why some people struggle with substance abuse while others don't. In an animal study, a team of British scientists have discovered a gene mutation that regulates alcohol consumption. The findings, published in the journal Nature and Communications, could help addiction researchers pinpoint the underlying cause of alcohol dependence in humans.
The scientists introduced several random mutations to the genetic code of a group of mice before giving them the free choice to drink either water or alcohol. Mice do not typically consume alcohol, but those with a mutation to the g-aminobutyric acidA receptor b1 subunit gene (Gabrb1) exhibited a genetic preference for the substance. They drank the human equivalent of two bottles of whiskey a day. The mice also worked harder to get more of the substance, continually pushing a lever over long periods of time.
While this discovery is promising, Dr. Quentin Anstee, the study's principal investigator, told ABC News that a gene mutation is just one of the many causes of alcoholism.
"It is unlikely that a single gene can change alcoholism in humans," Anstee told the media outlet. "We are much more complicated in emotions and environment. It's more like a whisper in the ear that is present that makes certain life choices seem more pleasurable or easier. It causes [alcoholism] in mice and it may be an influence in humans."
He also said that the study would need to be replicated with humans and further research regarding the environmental factors that influence alcoholism would need to be studied as well.