An overview of genetic influences in alcoholism

J Subst Abuse Treat. 2009 Jan;36(1):S5-14.


This review summarizes recent findings from human research regarding genetic influences in alcohol abuse and dependence. Genes explain about 50% of the vulnerabilities leading to heavy drinking and associated problems. Most genetic influences appear to impact at least four prominent intermediate characteristics (phenotypes) that interact with environmental events to produce the alcoholism risk: a flushing response to alcohol; a low level of response to alcohol; personality characteristics that include impulsivity, sensation seeking, and neuronal and behavioral disinhibition; and through psychiatric symptoms. Polymorphisms potentially related to each phenotype have been identified, and studies were conducted to evaluate their characteristics in the context of environmental and psychosocial forces. A search is underway to identify genes that contribute to these phenotypes; the ultimate goals of which are better prediction of how to best prevent heavy drinking and problems, identifying individuals who may respond best to existing treatments, and development of new therapeutic approaches based on the biological underpinnings of alcoholism.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / genetics*
  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control
  • Alcoholism / genetics*
  • Alcoholism / rehabilitation
  • Behavior, Addictive / genetics
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease*
  • Humans
  • Personality / genetics
  • Phenotype
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Risk Factors