Dopamine and excessive alcohol consumption: how genes interact with their environment
background Hereditary factors account for approximately 50% of the risk of developing alcohol dependence. Genes that affect the dopamine function in the brain have been extensively studied as candidate genes.
aim To present the results of recent Dutch studies on the interaction between genes and their environment in relation to dopamine function and excessive alcohol use.
method Two large scale research projects were recently carried out in order to study the relation between dopamine genes and excessive alcohol use in the Netherlands. The first study investigated excessive alcohol use among adolescents. The second studied alcohol dependence among adult males.
results Genes that affect the dopamine function in the brain were not directly linked to excessive alcohol use or dependence. Dopamine genes, however, do influence sensitivity to environmental risk factors for excessive alcohol use.
conclusion These studies show that genetically determined dopamine function increases the risk of excessive alcohol use in the context of an adverse environment. Traumatic experiences and parenting style were both shown to be important environmental factors.