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Gene Linked to Alcoholism Discovered

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Scientists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine have discovered a gene variant that may protect against alcoholism.

CYP2E1 Gene Variant

The gene variant called CYP2E1 has been discovered to resonance with an individual’s response to alcohol. Only 10 to 20 percent of people are known to have the variant gene. For the individuals who have the gene variant the first few drinks make them more intoxicated then a person without the gene variant. The individuals who have a different variant have to drink nearly twice as much alcohol to become as intoxicated as the individual who has the CYP2E1 variant.

The discovery of CYP2E1's role hints at a new mechanism of how people perceive alcohol, and further, how alcohol affects the brain. "We have found a gene that protects against alcoholism, and on top of that, has a very strong effect," said senior study author Kirk Wilhelmsen, MD, PhD, professor of genetics at UNC. "But alcoholism is a very complex disease, and there are lots of complicated reasons why people drink. This may be just one of the reasons."

When you combine the gene variant CYP2E1, the effect that alcohol has on the brain, and how the individual feels after consuming alcohol, you have a perplexing puzzle. Alcohol in general makes people feel good or not care so when you factor in stress, self-esteem/worth with the other variables it is hard to detect how the gene variant actually comes into play.

How the Gene may Help Alcoholics

In the future, drugs that induce CYP2E1 could be used to make people more sensitive to alcohol before they've taken their first drink, or even to help sober them up when they've had one too many.