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Genetics may cause binge drinking

(U-WIRE) LAWRENCE, Kan. – Blame your parents for that hangover you had last weekend – binge drinking could be in your genes.
In a study released this month, college students with a particular version of a common gene tended to have more harmful drinking habits than students with a different version.
Researchers say the link could possibly lead to future medications for those with a drinking problem.
“Obviously it’s going to take a lot more work,” says Paolo D. DePetrillo, National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse clinical investigator and co-author of the study.
For the study, researchers surveyed 204 male and female Caucasian college students, all between the ages of 17 and 23. The participants answered questions about their drinking habits and provided saliva samples.
Researchers used the saliva to look for the serotonin transporter gene known as 5HTT. The gene is responsible for recycling serotonin in the brain. DePetrillo says that this gene was targeted because of its known connection to anxiety.
Everyone is born with either short or long versions of this gene. This leaves the possibility of three combinations: two long strands, two short strands or one long and one short strand.
Researchers with the NIAAA found that binge drinking was more prevalent in students who had two short strands of the gene. These students reported binge drinking twice as often as students with different forms, DePetrillo says.
This isn’t to suggest that 5HTT is the only gene involved with the binge drinking habit, DePetrillo says. But the research does prove a strong relationship that could lead to a possible cure for serotonin imbalance.
“It wouldn’t be a magic bullet,” DePetrillo says. “But perhaps this could lead to a remedy of the problem.”
Binge drinking, defined as five drinks in a sitting for men and four drinks for women, is a common problem on college campuses. Barbara Ballard, head of the University of Kansas’ alcohol task force, says that the University of Kansas is no exception.
“We know our students have a problem,” Ballard says. “But we’re providing education and alternatives for them.”
All KU residence halls have alcohol education programs in place and the school’s health center also offers educational programs to various campus groups.
The alcohol task force began Hawk Nights in 1998 as an alcohol-free alternative to Lawrence, Kan., nightlife.
“Drinking isn’t the only kind of recreation that students have,” Ballard says.
Lisa Matchulat, a sophomore from Milwaukee, Wis., says that activities like Hawk Nights are good for students who don’t want to drink, but she doesn’t think the programs discourage drinking.
“If people want to go out and drink on the weekends, they’re going to go out and drink,” she says.

September 23, 2003

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