Wednesday, 22 August 2018

A speculative relationship between genetics and binge drinking

Some time ago, someone pointed me to this 2006 working paper by Jason Shogren (University of Wyoming) and Eric Naedval (University of Oslo). In the paper, the authors draw a link between genetic variations and binge drinking. They authors conclude that:
...our model shows that alcohol taxes may be counter-productive in controlling the emergence of EDSS [Excessive Drinking in Social Situations] as a social norm.
However, don't rush to cancel alcohol taxes just yet. These results are based primarily on a theoretical model, and while the authors present some circumstantial evidence to support it (a survey of Norwegian students, and noting that states in the US with more historical Scandinavian immigrants are more likely to demonstrate a binge drinking culture), the conclusions are largely speculative.

There is a long chain of results required to link genetic variations with binge drinking. First, the authors note that there are studies that link shyness to genetic characteristics like blue eyes and tall ectomorphic bodies (which are typical Scandinavian traits). Second, shy people can use excessive drinking as a coping strategy in social situations. Third:
...given the first two steps, a larger fraction of the population in northern Europe should have a greater genetic disposition for EDSS...
Fourth, if the fraction of the population with EDSS genetic disposition is sufficiently large, social reinforcement mechanisms could come into play... If EDSS is atypical, it is considered anti-social. If EDSS is relatively common, it has a "legitimizing" effect and EDSS becomes acceptable.
Fifth, if steps 1-4 hold, we should observe a larger fraction of the population that engages in EDSS in northern Europe than in southern Europe.
It is a nice theoretical model, but given the number of steps required to link genetic variation with binge drinking, file this as speculative at best. At least, until there is some genuine empirical support for it. I find it hard to get past the counter-examples of countries like New Zealand, Australia, and the UK, where blue eyes are not common and yet binge drinking is.

No comments:

Post a Comment