7 Ways Your Genes Influence Your Drinking Habits
Should your family history influence how you drink? Or, how much you drink? Possibly. Scientific evidence links certain aspects of alcohol use to your genes.
No one wants a hangover, right? New data suggests a strong genetic link with hangover frequency, researchers recently reported in Psychopharmacology. And drinkers in the study were more likely to have vivid memories of their hangovers if they had relatives who battled alcohol dependency. If your hangovers stand out in your mind, curb your drinking rather than trying the “hair of the dog” trick—especially if alcoholism runs in the family. Find out how to ease your hangover naturally.
Sulfites are chemicals naturally occurring in wine, and used in food processing for preservation. Individuals with sulfite sensitivity experience allergic reactions ranging from mild to life-threatening respiratory symptoms, skin rashes and diarrhea. “Wine-induced asthma” occurs after a person with sulfite sensitivity consumes a glass of wine or beer. Research reported in Allergy and Asthma Proceedings suggests a genetic predisposition to allergic reactions to wine. If family members experience respiratory problems after drinking wine, there’s a higher chance their relatives will too. (Learn more about surprising sensitivities.)
Age of first drink
Earlier onset of drinking is associated with so-called disordered drinking (think problem drinking). In other words, a person who begins drinking alcohol at a young age is at higher risk for substance abuse. Genetics play a role here, too. The Journal of Abnormal Psychology reported a study of over 7,200 twins and alcohol, marijuana and tobacco use. Findings suggest a strong genetic tendency for substance abuse, based on how young a person begins using them. Here are some tips on cutting back on alcohol.
Infertility in men
If you’re a guy, and you’re trying to conceive, abstaining from alcohol is a smart move. Numerous studies have found that sperm quantity and quality weakens with increased alcohol use. Genetic material within the sperm cells is damaged with high amounts of drinking, and sperm motility is reduced. The good news: if you quit drinking, research shows a fast and dramatic improvement in semen quality.
Gout is a painful inflammation of joints, usually in the feet. Typically, aggravated by high levels of uric acid in the blood, people experiencing gout are advised to follow a low-purine diet (red meat and certain seafoods) and avoid alcohol. Dietary changes don’t always reduce uric acid levels in blood, and medication is required. New research reported in the British Journal of Nutrition implies a genetic link between alcohol intake, gender and uric acid levels in African Americans. Women’s levels of uric acid were associated with alcohol intake. If your family notices gout flare-ups after drinking alcohol, there’s a chance this could affect you as well.
Is alcoholism inherited? It’s a longstanding question from scientists. Multiple researchers have studied this question in detail over the years, with results pointing to a strong familial predisposition to alcohol abuse. One comprehensive review article in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism from 2016 sums it up well reporting substantial evidence for a genetic component to alcoholism, but a specific portion of the gene predicting alcoholism has yet to be identified. Another study in Addiction reports a “moderate to high” genetic influences on addiction. Here are additional health aspects of drinking alcohol.
Development of cirrhosis
Cirrhosis, the toughening of liver tissue and resulting liver dysfunction or failure, occurs after years of alcohol abuse. But, it doesn’t happen to every single alcoholic. The medical journal Seminars in Liver Disease reviewed evidence suggesting a possible genetic link responsible for predicting which alcoholics progress to cirrhosis. In short—if you have a relative with alcoholic cirrhosis, you may be at a higher risk.