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New Research on Hereditary Aspects of Alcoholism Sheds More Light on Risk Factors

By L.S. Webb, Community Engagement Manager for Walden Sierra

A new study authored by John P. Rice of Washington University, to be published in September 2012’s issue of Alcoholism:  Clinical and Experimental Research, is the first to document a link between alcohol dependence and a genetic variation called copy number variations on chromosome 5q13.2.  This important work adds to our existing body of knowledge about the risk factors for alcohol and drug dependence that are associated with heredity.  Rice, as quoted by Amber Moore in Medical Daily indicated that "… studies have estimated the heritability of alcohol dependence or AD – the proportion of variability in risk that is due to genetic factors – to be to be about 50 percent."  While more research will be needed to understand the implications of how these genes and copy number variations operate to increase risk for alcohol dependence, it may also prove to be of interest that the area on chromosome 5 highlighted in this new study also has several genes that are known to contribute the operation of the nervous system.  

 It is important to keep in mind that heredity is not the only factor that influences our risk to developing alcohol or drug dependence.  Other risk factors include multiple environmental and social ones.  For example, the age at which a person begins using alcohol or other drugs, the experience of traumatic event(s), poor social or coping skills, the role of peers, and a perception that alcohol or drug use are condoned by societies/cultures to which we belong are some additional risk factors.  

 If you think you or someone you love is dependent on alcohol, please do not ignore your concerns.   Professional assessment is required to diagnose a substance use disorder or addiction problem.  To help people identify risk for a developing alcohol or other drug problem, there are self-assessments that, if answered honestly, may encourage a person with a possible issue to get professional assessment and assistance.  The CAGE is one of several self-assessments that can help identify (but not diagnose) emerging issues with substance dependence. 

 Here are the CAGE self-assessment questions: C – Have you ever felt the need to Cut down on your drinking/drug use? A – Do you get Annoyed at criticism by others about your drinking/drug use? G – Have you ever felt Guilty about your drinking/drug use or something you have done while drinking or using other drugs? E – Eye-opener: Have you ever felt the need for a drink early in the morning?

One positive answer provides an indication that the person may be at risk for developing a problem with alcohol or other drugs. Contacting a behavioral health program or speaking with a primary care provider for more feedback is a helpful next step if you are concerned and/or ready to make a change.  To read more about the CAGE and next steps after self-assessment, you might visit

If you are in Southern Maryland and would like to talk about getting help for problem drinking or alcohol dependence, you may contact us at Walden Sierra (Walden Behavioral Health) at 301-863-6661 or 888-912-7366—or visit us on the web at  To find a list of treatment centers near you (in the United States), you can go to SAMHSA’s addiction treatment provider directory at

To read Amber Moore’s article in Medical Daily on the copy number variations study, go to

Note:  No post of Walden Sierra (Walden Behavioral Health’s) Behavioral Health Blog is to be considered medical or therapeutic advice.