A couple of years ago my agent asked me if I wanted to write a book on the epidemic of binge drinking among 20-something women. She thought it was a subject worth investigating. I declined, but I’ve thought of that group of women several times.
The news last month was not good about even younger women—those in high school. One news station reported that the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention has found that one in five teenage girls is binge drinking.
I thought back to my teenage years. Binge drinking would never have agreed with me. I liked a 7 and 7 (Seven-up and Seagram’s 7, for the uninitiated) at a party, say, once every three or four months. And, oh yes, and rum and coke. But I didn’t hang with a crowd that drank. In fact, I don’t think I ever saw anyone my age binge drink. That’s not to say there weren’t kids who didn’t -- I have a feeling they did. I never had more than one; I think I just like the taste.
This is all conjecture on my part because it was so long ago. But according to a recent study published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal and reported by Reuters, my restraint may be more attributed to my genetic makeup.
Researchers have found that a gene, RASGRF-2, “plays a crucial role in controlling how alcohol stimulates the brain to release dopamine, triggering feelings of reward.” The lead researcher said that for people with a variation of the gene get a stronger hit from alcohol which in turn could turn them into heavy drinkers.
Experts have known about the gene, but until now, not how it worked. Here’s a synopsis of what they found after testing their theory on mice:
The team analyzed brain scans of 663 14-year old boys and found that when they were anticipating a reward in a mental test, those with genetic variations to the RASGRF-2 gene had more activity in an area of the brain closely linked to the VTA and also involved in dopamine release.
This suggests people with a genetic variation on the RASGRF-2 gene release more dopamine when anticipating a reward, and hence derive more pleasure from it, the scientists said.
To confirm the findings, the team analyzed drinking behavior from the same group of boys two years later when many of them had already begun drinking frequently.