Does Your DNA Determine How Much You Drink?

By May Wilkerson 01/21/16

Spanish researchers believe they may have found a link.


The amount of booze you drink and how it affects you may be rooted in your DNA. Past studies have revealed a link between genetics and alcohol intake and effects in Asian populations. A new study from the University of Valencia provides evidence that the same link exists among Western populations as well.

It all comes down to a specific gene called alcohol dehydrogenase 1B (nickname: ADH1B) that regulates the activity of a group of enzymes that determine how your body metabolizes booze.

When you drink, alcohol enters your bloodstream where ADH1B metabolizes ethanol, the active ingredient in alcohol, into acetaldehyde. If this process happens quickly, lots of acetaldehyde accumulates in a short time, which can cause negative physical effects, like a flushed face, nausea, and headaches. But if the ethanol is metabolized slowly, the alcohol remains intact in the blood for a longer time, so the more pleasant, euphoric effects last longer.

The ADH1B gene impacts how quickly you metabolize ethanol. So someone with a highly efficient ADH1B gene may experience more unpleasant effects of alcohol, which could cause them to drink less. Whereas people who carry a "lazy" variant of the gene may experience the better effects of alcohol for longer, so they may be prone to drink more.

This link between the lazy variant of the ADH1B gene and higher alcohol consumption was proven in past studies of Asian populations. But this study is one of the first to suggest that this link also exists in Western populations. The link also may be more pronounced among men.

"The main conclusion of this work is that this genetic polymorphism [the different variants of ADH1B carried by different people] seems to be linked to levels of alcohol consumption," said Francesc Francés, from the Department of Legal and Forensic Medicine at the UV. "This association is even more evident in the male population, perhaps due to the existence of fewer inhibiting social stereotypes."

So next time you get wasted and lose your wallet and cell phone, you can just blame your lazy DNA. Especially if you’re a dude.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.