BOOZE AND MONEY: SCIENCE UNCOVERS A LINK
What makes an alcoholic? People have been drinking too much for thousands of years, but much mystery remains: no one can predict whether a given person will become an alcoholic.
Still, scientists are giving it their best shot. We do know that genetics play a role: alcoholic parents often produce alcoholics. A 2009 study found that genetics “explain about 50% of the vulnerabilities leading to heavy drinking.”
But your parents are never the full story. Predisposition to alcoholism is also affected by your environment, and scientists are now shedding light on the relationship between income level and alcohol use.
A new study, published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Review, found that socioeconomic status appears to “moderate” the power of your genes. In other words, wealth affects the way genetic factors actually express themselves in behavior.
NPR summarized the results of the study:
There was a lot more variation in how much people drank if they had lower incomes, with some drinking heavily and others drinking not at all, the researchers found. By contrast, people with higher incomes were more likely to drink, but also more apt to moderate their drinking.
The reality is, alcoholism does not have a “type.” There are problem drinkers in all professions, religions, and ethnicities. We are learning, however, that risk manifests itself differently in different groups. NPR:
Genetics had a bigger influence on drinking habits in low-income people, with environmental influences playing more of a role with higher-income people. It may be that family norms about drinking are more uniform in higher-income communities, the researchers speculate.
These results are fascinating, to a point. Unfortunately, they offer no solace to people already suffering from uncontrollable drinking—people who may already struggle to intellectually grasp or “solve” their problem, to no avail.
The good news: real help is available for alcoholics of all stripes. No matter how the drinking problem developed, a joyful recovery is possible.