, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 144-151

The genetics of alcoholism and alcohol abuse

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Twin studies have established that there are substantial genetic influences on alcoholism (0.5-0.6) in both men and women. Our knowledge of behaviors predisposing to alcoholism, including anxiety and impulsivity, is advancing rapidly through animal and human studies. Although alcoholism is often comorbid with other substance abuse and psychiatric disorders, recent studies have shown that, with the exception of nicotine, the heritability of alcoholism is largely substance-specific. Increasing understanding of the neurobioligy of addiction has identified neural pathways in which genetic variation at candidate genes could influence vulnerability. Some functional variants of these genes have been identified. Recent linkage analyses in humans and rodents have pointed to genomic regions harboring genes that influence alcoholism. Refinement of clinical phenotypes and use of intermediate phenotypes will improve chances of gene identification. All these advances in the understanding of the genetics of alcoholism should facilitate the development of more accurately targeted therapies using molecular diagnostic approaches.