Review: Genetic research on alcohol use outcomes in African American populations: A review of the literature, associated challenges, and implications

Am J Addict. 2017 Aug;26(5):486-493. doi: 10.1111/ajad.12495. Epub 2017 Feb 27.


Background and objectives: There have been remarkable advances in understanding genetic influences on complex traits; however, individuals of African descent have been underrepresented in genetic research.

Methods: We review the limitations of existing genetic research on alcohol phenotypes in African Americans (AA) including both twin and gene identification studies, possible reasons for underrepresentation of AAs in genetic research, the implications of the lack of racially diverse samples, and special considerations regarding conducting genetic research in AA populations.

Results: There is a marked absence of large-scale AA twin studies so little is known about the genetic epidemiology of alcohol use and problems among AAs. Individuals of African descent have also been underrepresented in gene identification efforts; however, there have been recent efforts to enhance representation. It remains unknown the extent to which genetic variants associated with alcohol use outcomes in individuals of European and African descent will be shared. Efforts to increase representation must be accompanied by careful attention to the ethical, legal, and social implications of genetic research. This is particularly true for AAs due to the history of abuse by the biomedical community and the persistent racial discrimination targeting this population.

Conclusions and scientific significance: Lack of representation in genetic studies limits our understanding of the etiological factors that contribute to substance use and psychiatric outcomes in populations of African descent and has the potential to further perpetuate health disparities. Involving individuals of diverse ancestry in discussions about genetic research will be critical to ensure that all populations benefit equally from genetic advances. (Am J Addict 2017;26:486-493).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / genetics*
  • Alcoholism / genetics*
  • Black or African American / genetics*
  • Community Participation
  • Genetic Research*
  • Humans