Friends Trump Protective Qualities of Anti-Alcohol Gene

There are some people that have a gene variant that prevents them from feeling the desired effects when consuming alcohol. When a person ingests alcohol their body goes to work to metabolize the chemical. For those that have the gene variant, their bodies produce large amounts of Acetaldehyde, which causes the person to feel unpleasant side effects from drinking, mostly headaches and vomiting. Due to this reaction, people who have the gene variant are less likely to drink as much as those that do not have it.

However, there is one thing that researchers noticed trumped the effects of Acetaldehyde in the body, and that was friends. People, especially teenagers, are more likely to ignore the negative effects of drinking if their friends are drinking as well.

Despite initial discomfort, researchers noticed that if a teen chose to drink despite the variant, eventually the negative would disappear and they would react to the alcohol just like those that do not have the genetic quality. “Young people with this protective variant in the alcohol dehydrogenase gene, ADH1B, had a lower risk of becoming intoxicated and developing early symptoms of alcohol use disorder. But when in a high-risk environment – that is, if they reported that ‘most or all’ of their best friends drank alcohol – the gene’s protective effect essentially disappeared,” explained Emily Olfson, a researcher on the study.

It is quite common that teenagers are put in situation where alcohol is around and being offered to them. For those who have the protective gene, alcohol may never become an issue. The person may go their entire life never being interested in alcohol. However, it is clear that the gene’s protective qualities only go so far.

The results of the study prove one thing for certain, it is important that teenagers surround themselves with friends who do not encourage underage drinking. The effects of peer pressure can never be underestimated and this study proves that peer pressure can even trump genetics, just as people who may be more susceptible to addiction don’t automatically become addicts.