A huge analysis of drinking patterns among veterans has found genetic distinctions between heavy drinkers and alcoholics, according to a study published [recently] in the journal Nature Communications.
The research team, co-led by the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University, found that the two groups shared some genetic variants but not others. This has implications for the development of medications to treat harmful drinking and for identifying who is most at risk.
The study analyzed data from 275,000 people in the Million Veteran Program.
The researchers looked for genes associated with the level of drinking and with alcohol use disorder (AUD), an uncontrolled form of drinking, often called alcoholism, that affects about 15 million Americans. Alcoholics who are not in recovery are heavy drinkers, but not all heavy drinkers are alcoholics.
The results are “evidence of something I think many people have thought or wondered about, that is, is heavy drinking the same thing as alcohol use disorder, and what we found is that it both is and it isn’t,” said Henry Kranzler, a psychiatrist who is director of Penn’s Center for Studies of Addiction. “It’s overlapping, but it’s not the same thing.”
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