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Are Your Genes Making You Binge Drink?

Some people may be genetically predisposed to find alcohol more rewarding, scientists have discovered.

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By Valerie Tejeda

12/04/12

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Scientists have discovered a gene that could explain why some teens are more prone to binge drinking. A new study—published in the journal Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)—pinpoints a gene called "RASGRF-2" that plays a role in controlling the release of dopamine. "If people have a genetic variation of the RASGRF-2 gene, alcohol gives them a stronger sense of reward, making them more likely to be heavy drinkers," says lead author Gunter Schumann, from the King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry. Researchers analyzed brain scans of 663 14-year-old boys; they found those with genetic variations to RASGRF-2 showed more brain activity linked to dopamine release when anticipating a reward. This suggests that individuals with this genetic variation may experience an increase in pleasure when anticipating the positive feelings associated with heavy drinking. "People seek out situations which fulfill their sense of reward and make them happy, so if your brain is wired to find alcohol rewarding, you will seek it out," says Schumann. "We now understand the chain of action: how our genes shape this function in our brains and how that, in turn, leads to human behavior."

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