Study of Millions Finds Genetic Links to Smoking and Drinking

Katherine Irving in The Scientist:

A study surveying more than 3.4 million people has found nearly 4,000 genetic variants related to the use of alcohol and tobacco, scientists reported Wednesday (Dec 7) in Nature. More than 1,900 of the variants had not previously been linked to substance use behaviors, study coauthor and statistical geneticist at the Penn State College of Medicine Dajiang Liu states in a press release. The novel findings were aided by the fact that a fifth of the genomic samples came from individuals of non-European ancestry, Liu says.

“This is a great study. It demonstrates the power of using large samples from multiple ancestry groups in well-designed analyses,” geneticist and neuroscientist Joel Gelernter of Yale University tells New Scientist.

Although scientists have conducted similar genome-wide association studies (GWAS) in the past, Liu tells New Scientist that the majority of those surveys were conducted primarily on people of European descent. Although social situations and policies may influence a person’s inclination towards smoking and drinking, there is substantial evidence that a person’s genetic makeup may also predispose them towards alcohol and tobacco usage. “We’re at a stage where genetic discoveries are being translated into clinical [applications],” Liu tells Nature. “If we can forecast someones risk of developing nicotine or alcohol dependence using this information, we can intervene early and potentially prevent a lot of deaths.”

More here.