Surveying more than 3.4 million people, in the largest study of its kind, scientists have found nearly 4,000 genetic variants that they believe predispose people to alcohol and tobacco use behaviors. With more than 1,900 of the variants not previously linked, this study is monumental in learning more about why some people are more drawn to smoking combustible cigarettes and drinking and what it might take for them to quit for good. Here’s everything that we know.
The study entitled, “Genetic diversity fuels gene discovery for tobacco and alcohol use” was published on December 7, 2022, in the journal, Nature. Although things like environment and culture can affect a person’s use and likelihood of becoming addicted to various substances, researchers at the Penn State College of Medicine concluded that our genetics are also contributing factors.
With over 3.4 million subjects—of European, African, American, and Asian ancestries—researchers used machine learning to develop a genetic risk score that could identify people at risk for certain tobacco and alcohol use behaviors. They believe that these results yield great power in helping to predict future health risks, and that targeted interventions can be implemented, reducing the health risks of these higher-risk individuals.
What were the results?
Tobacco and alcohol use are associated with approximately between 5% and 15% of deaths worldwide, respectively, and are linked with chronic conditions like cancer and heart disease. However, researchers at Penn State College of Medicine believe that if early intervention can happen, these numbers can be lowered. With 1,900 more variants discovered, there are now more samples available to study and find further genetic links.
The smoking phenotypes were selected to represent different stages of tobacco use and addiction, including initiation, the onset of regular use, the amount smoked, and smoking cessation. In terms of alcohol use, it was measured based on drinks per week.
“It is promising to see that the same genes are associated with addictive behaviors across ancestries. Having more robust and diverse data will help us develop predictive risk factor tools that can be applied to all populations,” said study coauthor and statistical geneticist Dajiang Liu.
In terms of the tobacco component of this study, even though some people possess genetic factors that make their addiction to smoking combustible cigarettes stronger than others, it’s the nicotine that’s heightened these receptors. Smoking cessation through the use of e-cigs provides users with their required nicotine intake to satisfy their physical needs until a time when they can either lower their nicotine levels or stop vaping altogether.
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