According to a recent study, heavy drinking may trigger a long-lasting genetic change which may lead to an increased craving for alcohol.
The study was led by Rutgers University and published in the journal of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
“We found that people who drink heavily may be changing their DNA in a way that makes them crave even more. This may help explain why alcoholism is such a powerful addiction, and may one day contribute to new ways to treat or help prevent at-risk people from becoming addicted,” said senior study author Dipak K Sarkar.
In 2016, more than 3 million people died from the harmful use of alcohol, according to a World Health Organisation report. More than three-quarters of alcohol caused deaths were among men. The harmful use of alcohol also caused 5.1 per cent of the worldwide toll of disease and injuries.
Scientists at Rutgers and Yale University School of Medicine focused on two genes implicated in the control of drinking behaviour: PER2, which influences the body’s biological clock, and POMC, which regulates our stress-response system.
By comparing groups of moderate, binge and heavy drinkers, the researchers found that the two genes had changed in the binge and heavy drinkers through an alcohol-influenced gene modification process called methylation. The binge and heavy drinkers also showed reductions in gene expression or the rate at which these genes create proteins. These changes increased with greater alcohol intake.
Additionally, in an experiment, the drinkers viewed stress-related, neutral or alcohol-related images. They also were shown containers of beer and subsequently tasted beer, and their motivation to drink was evaluated. The result obtained was alcohol fueled changes in the genes of binge and heavy drinkers were associated with a greater desire for alcohol.
The findings may eventually help researchers identify biomarkers-measurable indicators such as proteins or modified genes-that could predict and individual’s risk for binge or heavy drinking.