Genes, Environments, and Sex Differences in Alcohol Research

J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2017 Jul;78(4):494-501. doi: 10.15288/jsad.2017.78.494.


Objective: The study of sex differences has been identified as one way to enhance scientific reproducibility, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have implemented a new policy to encourage the explicit examination of sex differences. Our goal here is to address sex differences in behavioral genetic research on alcohol outcomes.

Method: We review sex differences for alcohol outcomes and whether the source and magnitude of genetic influences on alcohol consumption and alcohol use disorder (AUD) are the same across sexes; describe common research designs for studying sex-specific gene-by-environment interaction (G × E) effects; and discuss the role of statistical power and theory when testing sex-specific genetic effects.

Results: There are robust sex differences for many alcohol outcomes. The weight of evidence suggests that the source and magnitude of genetic influences on alcohol consumption and AUD are the same across sexes. Whether there are sex-specific G × E effects has received less attention to date.

Conclusions: The new NIH policy necessitates a systematic approach for studying sex-specific genetic effects in alcohol research. Researchers are encouraged to report power for tests of these effects and to use theory to develop testable hypotheses, especially for studies of G × E.

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / genetics*
  • Alcoholism / genetics*
  • Female
  • Gene-Environment Interaction*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sex Characteristics