By Alan Mozes Health Day Journalist
THURSDAY, September 16, 2021 (HealthDay News) – Even when genetics and personality work against you, having a strong network of friends and family can help reduce the risk of alcoholism, researchers say.
“Genes play an important role in alcohol consumption,” said Jinni Su, assistant professor of psychology at Arizona State University in Tempe, and lead author of a new study.
But “genes are not our fate,” she added.
For the study, his team analyzed links between genetic makeup, personality traits, social support, and risk of alcoholism in more than 2,800 men and women aged 18 to 65.
Researchers found that adults at high genetic risk for alcohol problems were likely to have thrill-seeking personalities, Su said.
But they also found that strong social support from friends and family protected against alcohol use.
“Family and friends can play an important role in helping loved ones who may be struggling with alcohol problems, for example providing them with emotional support or helping to identify and engage in activities that channel their genetic predispositions in a healthy way, âexplained Su.
In everyday life, she said, that may simply mean encouraging high-risk, thrill-seeking friends to get the thrills of rock climbing, rather than drinking.
Still, the study team pointed to previous research indicating that about half the risk of developing a drinking problem comes from a genetic predisposition.
All of the study participants were Americans of European descent enrolled in a study on the genetics of alcoholism, which began in 1991.
All underwent initial assessments and follow-up tests that compared DNA scans to drinking behavior. Participants also completed personality questionnaires designed to establish how attracted they were to sensation-seeking situations.
Example question: do you prefer wild and uninhibited evenings or quiet evenings with a good conversation?
Finally, participants were invited to discuss the moral, emotional and social support they perceived to have received from friends and family.
The result? Those who inherited a high risk of alcohol abuse were also more likely to be sensation-seeking and more likely to drink heavily.
At the same time, “we have found that people with a higher genetic risk for alcohol abuse are more likely to have poor social relationships,” Su said. Investigators specifically cited lower levels of family support among heavy drinkers.
But the reverse, she noted, was also true: perceiving “strong social support from friends and family protected against alcohol use, especially in people at high genetic risk and trends in search of sensations “.
More generally, Su said that studying the strong and complex interplay between social support, genetics and personality can be extremely helpful in efforts to curb heavy drinking.
“This discovery gives us a possible avenue to help people at genetic risk channel their predisposition in healthy ways,” she said.
Michael Pollard, senior sociologist at the RAND Corporation, echoed similar thoughts.
âWe already know that social support protects against all kinds of negative outcomes, including alcohol use disorders,â said Pollard, who is also a professor at Pardee RAND Graduate School in Santa Monica, Calif.
“But this study,” he said, “is helping to link social support and genetic predisposition by identifying its role in reducing sensation seeking,” with the aim of helping curb symptoms. problematic consumption habits.
Pollard warned that the study “measured perceptions support, not necessarily if the support is actually available. This means that people with alcohol use disorders may be less aware of the real level of help they could get from family members, he explained.
Yet he acknowledged that perceived problems often turn into real problems, especially among older people “who often have fewer friends to rely on than younger adults.”
Funding for the research came from the US National Institute on Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse and the US National Institute on Drug Abuse. The results were recently published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
SOURCES: Jinni Su, PhD, assistant professor, psychology, Arizona State University, Tempe; Michael S. Pollard, PhD, senior sociologist, RAND Corporation, and professor, Pardee RAND Graduate School, Santa Monica, Calif .; Journal of Abnormal Psychology, July 1, 2021
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