New Study Pinpoints Alcoholism Genes

Plus: The opioid epidemic is literally breaking hearts, and an encouraging vaping study out of the University of Nebraska

By William Wagner

Science seems to be edging closer to solving the riddle of alcohol use disorder (AUD). For a new study published in Nature, researchers identified a comprehensive list of genes that are associated with problem drinking.

Other notable topics this week include the rise in opioid-related cardiac arrests and some promising numbers regarding youth vaping.

From Nature:
Pinpointing Drinking Genes

A groundbreaking study out of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York sheds more light on alcoholism’s genetic component. Scientists from the school used multi-omics, a way of performing biological analyses of large and diverse sets of data, to pinpoint a number of AUD “causal” genes. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the largest systematic multi-omics integration analysis to identify the functional impact of variants and genes associated with … distinct aspects of alcohol involvement,” the study’s authors write in Nature.

Once the work of the Icahn School of Medicine researchers is fully harnessed, it could have far-reaching implications. In a news release, Manav Kapoor, Ph.D., the study’s first author, said, “Identification of causal variants and genes underlying genome-wide association study (GWAS) loci is essential to understand the biology of alcohol use disorder to improve its treatment.” Additionally, the study revealed a connection between alcoholism and Alzheimer’s disease.

youth vaping
More and more youths want to at least try to quit vaping.

From Pediatrics:
Good News from the Vaping Front

There’s been a lot of messaging around the potential dangers of vaping, and it seems to be getting through. According to a study conducted by Hongying Dai, Ph.D., associate dean of research in the University of Nebraska’s College of Public Health, 53.4% of youth e-cigarette users (approximately 11 to 18 years old) reported that they planned to quit, and 67.4% said they already had tried within the previous year. Overall, boys were more inclined than girls to want to quit. The statistics were culled from the 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey.

A study by the European Society of Cardiologists shows that the number of cardiac arrests in the U.S. related to opioids has risen precipitously in recent years. Tapping into the U.S. Nationwide Readmissions Database (NRD), the research team determined that 3.1% of the hospitalizations for cardiac arrest from 2012 to 2018 were linked to opioids, which was “on par with the rate of cardiac arrest from other causes,” according to a news release about the study.

Public health strategies including increased surveillance, research and tracking [of] opioid cases are desperately needed to curtail this epidemic.”

—Senada S. Malik, University of New England in Maine

It’s yet another example of the carnage wrought by the opioid epidemic. “The rising use of opioids is having a devastating impact on the lives of many Americans,” said Senada S. Malik, a medical researcher at the University of New England in Maine and the leader of the study. “Abuse of these drugs has been linked with poor lifestyle choices, including excessive alcohol intake, lack of exercise, insufficient sleep and smoking—which can lead to a downward spiral of poor decision-making. A constant need for opioids contributes to addiction, depression, poverty, unemployment and criminal/legal problems. Public health strategies including increased surveillance, research and tracking [of] opioid cases are desperately needed to curtail this epidemic.”

Top photo: Shutterstock; bottom photo: Don Deflin Almonte