For as long as people have been drinking alcohol we have wondered why it is that some people are only able to drink a little before becoming intoxicated and some are able to drink a lot. Furthermore, there have been a lot of questions surrounding the issues of addiction and why it is that some people are more susceptible to suffering from it than others.
While a number of factors, including personal circumstances, societal pressures and the availability of alcohol, can all play a part, there has been a recent discovery that suggests that some people may be genetically inclined to overindulge in alcohol.
That discovery is a hormone that is believed to regulate the alcohol intake that the body is able to manage. This hormone is capable of setting a person’s drinking limits and may offer the answers to the first question we posed about how some people are able to drink more than others, as researchers believe that it plays an important role in setting a person’s drinking limits.
Named FGF21, the discovery of the hormone may have wider reaching consequences. Scientists believe that it may be usable in a medical sense, particularly when it comes to treating people who suffer from addiction to alcohol. Some have even gone so far as to speculate that a pill could be created using the hormone that addicts could take to control their drinking patterns.
Located in the liver, the hormone plays a crucial role in how the body processes alcohol, with Professor Paul Elliot of the Imperial College London stating: “Our findings may eventually lead to new treatments for people whose health is being harmed by drinking.”
As for what those findings were, a team analysed DNA samples from more than 105,000 people, each of whom was of European descent. Each participant in the study was also asked about what their weekly drinking habits were, to give researchers a better gauge on how much alcohol they were capable of consuming.
The key finding in the study was that the hormone FGF21 actually interacts with a gene located I the brain called beta-Klotho.
It is actually variations in the gene, rather than the hormone itself, that has the final say in alcohol consumption. The study found that in about 40% of participants, there was a particular variant of the gene present that was associated with reduced alcohol consumption.
The worrying thing is that the study also found that there were some in the study who lacked the gene entirely. These people were significantly more attracted to alcohol than those who possessed the gene, and are likely to be the people who would be most at risk of developing issues with alcohol if they were unable to check their drinking habits.
Speaking about the findings, Professor Gunter Schumann, who works in the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, said: “Our study reveals a previously unrecognised liver-brain pathway which regulates alcohol consumption in humans, and which could one day be targeted therapeutically to suppress consumption in problem drinkers.
“The results point towards an intriguing feedback loop, where FGF21 is produced in the liver in response to sugar and alcohol intake, which then acts directly on the brain to limit consumption.
“We cannot rule out the possibility that beta-Klotho acts by affecting neighbouring genes, so further genetic studies are warranted.”
The research was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and many are looking towards it as the starting point for the creation of a pill or treatment that could be used to treat addicts all over the world. Still, it is very early days at the moment, so it may be a while before we see such a medication arrive for those who struggle to control their intake. That means the following tips should still be followed if you know you have an issue with controlling your alcohol consumption:
- Create a plan that dictates just how much you plan on drinking over the course of the week. This is particularly useful for those who have a tendency to binge drink or people who are a little impulsive. Keep a copy of that plan with you so you can remind yourself to follow it.
- To complement that plan, you should also set a budget for how much you will spend on alcohol through the week. Again, keep this low as you won’t be controlling your intake if you just decide that you can spend as much as you want on alcohol.
- Be wary of social situations, as these can lead to drinking. A lot of people overindulge when they are around friends, so be clear with people that you are trying to keep things under control and ask them not to try to get you to drink. You may need to exercise a little self-control here or even leave the situation if you feel like you can’t handle being around others while they are drinking.
- If you need to cut your intake by quite a large amount, don’t try to do it all at once. This will just set you up for failure. Instead, try to cut it by a little each day. This will give you a lot of small victories that will motivate you to keep going, while also building into a much bigger victory over time.
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of bottles of water. A good idea is to alternate drinks, so have a glass of wine followed by a glass of water.
- A few diversions here and there don’t hurt either. By playing games or hanging out with friends in a non-drinking environment you can occupy your mind and keep yourself distracted long enough to deal with the cravings.
The Final Word
The discovery of this gene is very exciting and may lead to more comprehensive and effective treatment for those who struggle to control their alcohol intake in the future. For the time being, however, you should follow the tips above to try to stay on track.