We have evidence of the genetic influence on alcohol dependence, including familial risk factors. Scientists have long been actively seeking the specific genetic marker for substance abuse and addiction. A recent study, published in Biological Psychiatry, may help to move the search forward towards the ultimate discovery.

Researchers led my Dr. Shirley Hill, have identified childhood risk factors for the development of later substance abuse disorders. Children with both high and low familial risk factors for alcohol dependence were recruited and followed annually over eleven years.

Children in both groups were evaluated for a series of 13 predictors, including:

  • educational and achievement scores
  • personality variables
  • self-esteem
  • anxiety
  • neurobiological variables

Neurobiological variables included the P300 amplitude, or the brain signal associated with evaluation and decision-making, and postural body sway.

The study found that children with high body sway and low P30 amplitude were eight times more likely to develop substance abuse problems by their early adult years. Thus, alcoholism and substance abuse can be predicted well in advance.

These markers can be useful in the education process, wherein children identified at risk can be further educated on the dangers of alcohol dependence and drug addiction. Furthermore, they can be taught early on appropriate coping mechanisms and life skills, all helping to avoid addiction before it even begins.

Neuro biological variables proving to be good predictors may also help scientists discovered the much sought-after genetic markers.