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Researchers Look At Possible Link Between Genetics, Alcoholism

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Eighty-five thousand Americans suffer from alcohol-related deaths each year. The annual economic toll is $185 billion. Researchers are looking for

genetic clues

behind excessive drinking, especially among young people.

How many drinks does it take to feel the effects of alcohol? Lab tests show it varies from person to person. Some people are less sensitive to the effects, so they may drink more than others to experience the high.

"This low response to alcohol, a relative insensitivity to alcohol, is associated with the alcoholism risk," said Dr. Marc Schuckit, of Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System.

Researchers studied the effects of alcohol in 12- and 13-year-olds to find how and when people develop alcohol dependency.

Eighty out of 1,100 juveniles said they had taken at least one drink. Of that group, many said they drank about once a month -- having six drinks at a time.

The results show alcohol abuse may be largely genetic.

"People however, don't inherit an alcoholic gene. In all likelihood, they inherit genes that relate to characteristics that increase or decrease overall risk for alcoholism," Schuckit said.

Schuckit said children of alcoholics are four times more likely to develop alcoholism even if they are raised in non-alcoholic adoptive families.


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