Adolescents and young adults have been studied exhaustively with respect to alcohol use. Some reports suggest that nearly 70% of all adolescents and young adults have used alcohol. This high rate of alcohol use could pave the way for more accepting attitudes toward alcohol consumption. Positive acceptance may be just one factor that leads to problematic alcohol use, and eventually dependency. Other issues that are of concern relating to alcohol use include risky behavior, sexual risk taking, and physical health problems.
To better understand how alcohol use is influenced during this critical developmental period, Alexis C. Edwards of the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics at the Department of Psychiatry at Virginia Commonwealth University recently conducted a study examining the genetic factors and heritability associated with alcohol use among a sample of 1,790 male twins. Edwards looked at how much alcohol the participants drank each month during their adolescent years into adulthood. She then evaluated how genetics and environment affected alcohol use.
The results revealed that environment influenced behavior during early adolescence and early adulthood, but as the twins reached adulthood, environmental differences emerged and this factor became less influential. When she looked at genetic factors, Edwards identified two factors that influenced alcohol use in unique ways. One impacted alcohol use during the teen years, but decreased in significance as the participants matured. The second genetic factor appeared to have more significance on alcohol use in adulthood and little impact during adolescence.
“In summary, these analyses explore the dynamic nature of genetic effects on alcohol consumption from adolescence to adulthood in a population-based sample of male twins,” said Edwards. She added that this study shows how these two unique factors affect alcohol use and behaviors at different time periods. This knowledge could improve techniques designed to identify genetic influences on alcohol and substance use.
Because these genetic factors work similarly to those discovered in research on antisocial behavior, the potential for this study to impact research in areas related to psychological problems unrelated to alcohol is also ripe. Future work can capitalize on these findings by applying this new evidence to various behavioral and psychological conditions across developmental periods. But for now, this research offers valuable information into the nuances that shape alcohol use and related behaviors.
Edwards, A. C., and K. S. Kendler. (2013). Alcohol consumption in men is influenced by qualitatively different genetic factors in adolescence and adulthood. Psychological Medicine 43.9 (2013): 1857-68. ProQuest. Web.
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