Study: Heavy drinking may change DNA, causing increased cravings for alcohol

NEW BRUNSWICK, N. J. — Binge drinking leaves people with more than just a long-lasting headache. A new study finds that frequently consuming too much booze may lead to a long-lasting change in DNA that causes an even stronger desire for alcohol.

Researchers at Rutgers University studied two genes that play a central role in one’s drinking behavior: PER2, which influences the body’s biological clock; and POMC, which regulates the body’s stress response system.

After comparing groups of moderate, binge, and heavy social drinkers, they found that both genes were modified among those who drink heavily or binged by an alcohol-influenced gene modification condition called methylation. Researchers also noticed reductions in gene expression — or the rate that the genes create proteins. They found modifications increased with greater alcohol consumption.

“We found that people who drink heavily may be changing their DNA in a way that makes them crave alcohol even more,” says senior author Dipak K. Sarkar, director of the Endocrine Program in the Department of Animal Sciences at Rutgers, in a media release. “This may help explain why alcoholism is such a powerful addiction, and may one day contribute to new ways to treat alcoholism or help prevent at-risk people from becoming addicted.”

Participants in the study were also shown stress-related, neutral, or alcohol-related images. They were then shown containers of beer, before being asked to taste the beverage. Researchers then assessed each participant’s desire to drink and found those with the genetic changes from heavy drinking showed a stronger craving.

The authors hope the research will lead them to identifying genetic markers that could actually predict an individual’s risk for binge or heavy drinking.

The study was published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

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