America’s Drinking Problem

Okay, so we all know America has a drinking problem. A big one too (the CDC says 1 in 3 Americans drink too much). But America’s drinking problem is more complicated than just that. See, drinking behaviors aren’t just influenced by the people around you (your environment), they’re also influenced by your DNA. And as Nancy Shute of NPR points out, there’s new research that shows your income level might also influence your drinking patterns too! In the paper she mentions, researchers found that the more money someone made, the more likely they were to drink and the more likely they were to moderate the amount they drank. But of course, scientists like to take things further and so they also wanted to see how genetics influenced drinking patterns on top of socioeconomic status.

Now, the beauty of this study was that it involved hundreds of pairs of twins. While identical twins have an identical genetic make-up, paternal twins do not. That’s because they are two different eggs fertilized by two different sperm, and are therefore as genetically diverse as two siblings born years apart. This means any differences in alcohol use between identical twins can largely be explained by the environment, while differences between paternal twins who grew up together in the same environment are likely rooted in genetics.

Interestingly, genetics had a much bigger influence on drinking patterns among low-income people, while the environment had a bigger impact on drinking habits among the well-paid. Such data supports the circulating theory that high-stress environments may activate/trigger genetic predispositions to increased alcohol consumption. However (as you may remember), they also found that there was increased drinking in high-income people, which would contradict such a theory. That being said, the authors do point out that their correlation between high-income and increased drinking was very weak, and thus might not actually be real. To further complicate matters, their results showing greater genetic influence on alcohol consumption among twins from low-income families also contradict previous studies in twins that show exactly the opposite. So at the end of the day, the jury is really still out on how genes, income, and alcohol consumption are correlated, if at all.

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