Brain and Body

Scientists Link Common Genetic Mutation to Reckless Drunk Behavior

November 23, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

Man passed out drunk on the floor with a bottle of Amarula
Photo credit: Alexandre Normand/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Are you a lightweight? You may carry this gene mutation.

There’s always that one person — the embarrassing drunk at the work Christmas party or the plastered crier who regularly ends up lamenting about the one who got away. All it takes is a couple beers and it’s over before it even began. Now, scientists from the University of Helsinki have discovered that reckless drunken behavior might all boil down to a common genetic mutation.

Some people can drink for hours on end while keeping their cool, but others spiral into impulsive and potentially dangerous behaviors after just a few drinks. The findings from the team of Finnish researchers suggest that there could be an underlying biological cause for this type of behavior — a link between a gene mutation that affects the serotonin 2B receptors and reckless behavior after drinking small amounts of alcohol. Scientists don’t fully understand how the serotonin 2B receptors function in humans, but the gene mutation seems to go hand in hand with impulsivity.

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Data was collected from 775 Finnish study participants, finding that the mutation (called HTR2B Q20*) could reliably predict risky behaviors related to alcohol. From this data, the scientists estimate that the mutation HTR2B Q20* is present in 2.2 percent of the Finnish population, or over 100,000 Finns.

“The results also indicate that persons with this mutation are more impulsive by nature even when sober, and they are more likely to struggle with self-control or mood disorders,” Roope Tikkanen, the study lead and a psychiatrist at the University of Helsinki, said in a press release.

Additionally, the researchers found that those with the mutation were more likely to get in fights, get arrested for drunk driving, and demonstrate aggressive outbursts while under the influence of alcohol.

Since the study has only been done on Finnish people so far, don’t be too quick to blame your drunken debauchery on HTR2B Q20*. In fact, IFLS reports that because of the relative isolation of the Finnish gene pool, the mutation is likely completely absent from Hispanic and native British populations, according to Tikkanen.

However, the discovery of this biological mechanism could lead to breakthroughs in understanding the role of the serotonin 2B receptor in humans. Plus, if the results hold up in larger clinical samples, doctors may be able to develop new therapies and preventative measures to help those who suffer from the outcomes of their uncontrollable, impulsive behaviors.

Or maybe it’s just time to put down the booze.

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