Drunken Behavior Might Be Genetic, Which Can Explain Why Some People Are More Impulsive Than Others
Alcohol seems to affect different people in different ways, but those differences aren't random, and they're becoming more well-understood. A new study, via New York Magazine's The Cut, begins to clarify the relationship between an impulsiveness gene and the effects of intoxication — in other words, drunken behavior might be genetic.
This research, published in Translational Psychiatry, comes to us from a team based at the University of Helsinki Psychiatry Clinic and the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Apparently, the Finns have great records on alcoholism sufferers and their relatives, as well as a pretty non-diverse gene pool, which made studying the connection between impulsive behavior and alcohol consumption much easier than it otherwise would be.
The genetic mutation in question affects a person's serotonin 2B receptor, and since the researchers already knew of a group who has this mutation, they could study them to see if there were behavioral differences that correlate with it. As it turns out, this group didn't meet the criteria for actual alcoholism but, as reported in Time, they "were more likely to report aggressive outbursts, fights and impulsive behavior while drinking alcohol. They were also more likely to be arrested for driving while under the influence."
So does that mean you're off the hook morally or legally for all those dumb things you did when you were drunk? ("My genes made me do it!") Not so fast. The impulsivity gene variant affects its bearers all the time (as well as increasing their chances of having self-control problems and mood disorders). So if you don't tend to be impulsive or moody when you're sober, your drunken behavior is much more likely just to be a result of the alcohol kicking in (duh).
Moreover, only about two percent of the Finnish population has this genetic variant affecting behavior under the influence. Finns are more genetically homogenous than Americans, so it's possible that the rate of mutation in Americans is even lower. The study was also very small, with just 14 people with the genetic variant included, so it provides more of a cue for further research than a definitive result.
In any case, if you've worried about acting impulsively while drunk in the past, you have all the evidence you need to rethink your alcohol habits now — whether your genes were partially to blame or not.
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