Recent Efforts to Dissect the Genetic Basis of Alcohol Use and Abuse

Biol Psychiatry. 2020 Apr 1;87(7):609-618. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2019.09.011. Epub 2019 Sep 25.


Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is defined by several symptom criteria, which can be dissected further at the genetic level. Over the past several years, our understanding of the genetic factors influencing alcohol use and abuse has progressed tremendously; numerous loci have been implicated in different aspects of alcohol use. Previously known associations with alcohol-metabolizing enzymes (ADH1B, ALDH2) have been replicated definitively. In addition, novel associations with loci containing the genes KLB, GCKR, CRHR1, and CADM2 have been reported. Downstream analyses have leveraged these genetic findings to reveal important relationships between alcohol use behaviors and both physical and mental health. AUD and aspects of alcohol misuse have been shown to overlap strongly with psychiatric disorders, whereas aspects of alcohol consumption have shown stronger links to metabolism. These results demonstrate that the genetic architecture of alcohol consumption only partially overlaps with the genetics of clinically defined AUD. We discuss the limitations of using quantitative measures of alcohol use as proxy measures for AUD, and we outline how future studies will require careful phenotype harmonization to properly capture the genetic liability to AUD.

Keywords: AUDIT; Alcohol consumption; Alcohol-metabolizing genes; Alcoholism; Genetics; Genome-wide association studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase / genetics
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Alcoholism* / genetics
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase, Mitochondrial
  • Ethanol
  • Humans
  • Phenotype
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide*


  • Ethanol
  • ADH1B protein, human
  • Alcohol Dehydrogenase
  • ALDH2 protein, human
  • Aldehyde Dehydrogenase, Mitochondrial