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Are You an Alcoholic? Genetic Testing for Alcoholism: One of a Set of Screening Tools

Updated on September 29, 2018
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has performed many psychological & physical evaluations for health agencies, industrial commissions, attorneys and insurers.


Insidious Health Condition

If you think that you suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, or any psychological or psychiatric condition, then you already have a jump start on recovery.

Make an appointment with professionals and find out for sure if you need help.

Given the level of alcoholism in America, I think it wiser to be even over-cautious and find out you do not have any of these afflictions, than to wait for serious complications to arise.

A sizable segment of the American population suffers from an average of four Severe Mental Disorders at once and alcohol or substance abuse is usually one of them.

During economic downturns like 2007 - 2012, drinking alcohol rose in frequency and concern, adding to the numbers of the afflicted.

The popularity of drinking games in high school and college adds fuel to the alcohol abuse problem in the U.S.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
oint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Army Substance Abuse programs.
oint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Army Substance Abuse programs.
oint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Army Substance Abuse programs. | Source

The process of determining alcoholism contains steps after referring a list of symptoms and looking at the drinks-per-day guidelines, although those can be effective starting points.

In some cases, these lists may satisfy a medical practitioner of the diagnosis. If one word can describe alcoholism, insidious is that word. It can hide itself in symptoms of other disorders.

Alcoholism can hide itself completely in so-named high-functioning alcoholics that succeed on the job and social activities Monday through Friday and drink to oblivion all weekend.

For example, some alcoholics die and people cleaning out theie homes find empty and half-filled liquor bottles by the dozens or hundreds. Many of the bottles are hidden behind other items and bottles are found under car seats and in the trunk.

The American Psychiatric Association in the mid-1980s reported that alcoholism directly or indirectly affects 98% of the American population. With this extent of problem, it is wise to get help if you think you are at risk or if problem drinking by someone you know is affecting you.

In addition to symptom lists, genetic testing is available that uncovers alcoholism in certain groups of individuals. About a dozen such tests are used in the early 2010s. Some of these are definitive in their ability to diagnose alcoholism and alcoholic risk.

Carrie Nation

..chopped up bars in taverns, but also helped women claim the right to vote. However, hatchets were not the answer to alcoholism.
..chopped up bars in taverns, but also helped women claim the right to vote. However, hatchets were not the answer to alcoholism.


The May 26, 2004 issue of the journal Neuroscience included an article that revealed a gene responsible for some cases of alcoholism. In like cases, the first answer to alcohol detemination is

a) whether a client is equipped with a preventive gene or not and

b) whether there is any deficiency in that preventive gene.

A "No" answer to the second part does not mean, however, that the client might not be able to drink himself into alcohol dependence, which can developed over time.

Thus, we cannot effectively say, " I have the preventive gene, so I can drink as much as I want!" This is equivalent to an obese client saying, "I use low-calorie butter substitute, so I can safely use twice as much now!"

The gene revealed by the article makes a substance called CREB, or Cyclic AMP Responsive Element Binding protein. It is a protein that regulates brain functioning during human development and learning, so it is very important.

In a deficiency (not enough) of this protein, a person often becomes anxious and/or depressed and drinks more alcohol than people who have no CREB protein deficiency. Alcohol is, then, a means of self medication for them.

Alcohol is a typical means of self-medication and I have seen this in dozens of pain management cases where clients suffered chronic back and leg pain, anxiety, and depression all at once. Alcohol seemed to work better than their prescribed medications, but affected their lives in negative ways. Some were diagnosed later as alcoholics, while others died from combining alcohol and narcotic drugs.

West vs. East

Antabuse is administered by Western Medicine to alcoholics to make them sick to vomiting while drinking. The drug blocks the actions of functioning ALDH2.

Chinese Medicine uses DAIDZIN. It affects aldehyde dehydrogenase so as to not cause a buildup of acetaldehyde that leads to symptoms of flush, nausae and heart involvement. It may work on brain chemistry to prevent the pleasure in drinking alcohol.

Aldehyde Dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) Gene Deficiency

During Autumn 2010, University of California-Berkeley began a program called Bring Your Genes to Cal. This instituted Personalized Medical Treatment based on genetic makeup. This might be useful.

Of three genetic tests given to consenting Autumn 2010 Freshmen, one was a cheek swab for ALDH2 Deficiency. Such a deficiency is responsible for Asian Flush among 40% of the East Asian population at Berkeley. The flush is the facial cheek flushing experienced by Asians after drinking alcohol.

It had not occurred to researchers that the test could be 1) a step in possibly determining Asian heritage and of 2) determining increased cancer risk.

ADH breaks ethanol (beverage alcohol) into acetaldehyde (cancer causing), and ALDH2 breaks down the cancer causing substance to acetate, which does not cause cancer. ALDH2 deficiency, denoted as the gene ALDH2*2, allows the cancer causing substance to remain to work DNA damage on the body, because the ALDH2*2 does nothing to the cancer causing substance.

East Asians that inherit the ALDH2*2 gene from both parents will suffer Asian Flush, heart palpitations, and nausea when they drink alcohol.

East Asians that inherit only one gene suffer fewer, milder symptoms and are at greater risk for esophageal cancer. Molecular Biology as a field is working on a preventive measure in the 2010s and esophagus regeneration is already achieved through the use of powdered pig bladder/intestines that grow into the cells and then become the exact structure needed.

A major takeaway here here is that having one copy of the faulty ALDH2*2 gene means that the client is much more at risk for developing alcoholism than those with two copies of this non-working gene. This is a good step to take among Asian populations, especially Far East Asians.

DRD2 TaqI Polymorphism

This is a variation on human dopamin receptors A determining genetic test for it cannot stand alone in diagnosing the presence of alcoholism in a client.

An A1 allele variation of the polymorphism is the culprit. People that have the variation also have significant risk of becoming addicted to opiates (like narcotics... heroin) and endorphin-releasing drugs -- This includes alcohol.

However, this variation is only slightly more common than average in alcoholics and opiate addicts. Thus, it is not a deciding factor. Added to other results from other tests, physical and psychological, it gives weight to a diagnosis.

In the early 2010s, perhaps a dozen total genetic tests for alcoholism risk existed. Others continue to be found.

Guideline Symptom List for Recognizing Alcoholism

Would it not be wonderful and miraculous if we could develop gene splicing to cure and prevent alcoholism?. I hope someday for that possibility.

The Mayo Clinic is my choice of experts on symptoms and diagnosis for alcoholism and they use the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5) of the American Psychiatric Association.

The DSM rule for diagnosing alcoholism includes the display of at least three or more of the following items within a single 12-month period. You don't need to have all the signs and having just one sign a year ago does not mean you are an alcoholic. See a professional for complete diagnosis.

  1. Tolerance, indicated by ever-greater amounts of alcohol needed to feel drunk.
  2. Withdrawal symptoms: tremors (DTs - delirium tremens), insomnia, nausea, anxiety, panic.
  3. Drinking more alcohol than you planned.
  4. Having an ongoing desire to cut down on alcohol or making unsuccessful attempts to do so.
  5. Spending a lot of time drinking, getting the alcohol, or recovering from drinking.
  6. Giving up important activities. Also, withdrawing and spending more time alone.
  7. Continuing to drink alcohol in the presence of physical and psychological problems (sometimes manifested as legal problems).

Someone that exhibits three or more of the above list of seven items might be an alcoholic. An individual that shows only one of the seven could benefit from talking with a medical professional about related concerns.

Quote From the World Health Organization

  • The harmful use of alcohol results in 2.5 million deaths each year.
  • 320 000 young people between the age of 15 and 29 die from alcohol-related causes, resulting in 9% of all deaths in that age group.
  • Alcohol is the world’s third largest risk factor for disease burden; it is the leading risk factor in the Western Pacific and the Americas and the second largest in Europe.
  • Alcohol is associated with many serious social and developmental issues, including violence, child neglect and abuse, and absenteeism in the workplace.

From Retrieved 9/25/2011.

© 2011 Patty Inglish MS


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