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Do Your Genes Predispose You to Smoking and Drinking?
In addition to environmental and social factors, genetics may also affect smoking and drinking behaviors.
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Do Your Genes Predispose You to Smoking and Drinking?

Maybe: The largest-ever analysis identifies over 3,500 genetic variants that influence tobacco and alcohol consumption

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Swathi Kodaikal, MSc
Photo portrait of swathi kodaikal

Swathi Kodaikal, MSc, holds a master’s degree in biotechnology and has worked in places where actual science and research happen. Blending her love for writing with science, Swathi enjoys demystifying complex research findings for readers from all walks of life. On the days she doesn’t write, she learns and performs Kathak, sings, makes plans to travel, and obsesses over cleanliness.

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Published:Dec 19, 2022
|1 min read
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A recent study published in Nature involving almost 3.4 million people (with European and non-European ancestries) suggests that about 3,823 genetic variants may affect smoking and drinking behaviors. Some 39 of these variants were linked with the age at which individuals started smoking, 243 with the number of cigarettes smoked per day, and 849 with the number of alcoholic drinks consumed per week.

Smoking and drinking are known to be influenced by environmental and social factors, but this study puts out evidence that genetics also affects tobacco and alcohol consumption. In a press release, co-author Dajiang Liu, a statistical geneticist at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, PA, said, “If we can forecast someone’s risk of developing nicotine or alcohol dependence using this information, we can intervene early and potentially prevent a lot of deaths.”

Liu and his colleagues used genome-screening analyses, called genome-wide association studies (GWAS), to understand how various traits or diseases are linked to genes, combinations of genes, or mutations. In this study, researchers used a GWAS model to compare the genomic data of nearly 3,383,199 people—21 percent of whom had non-European ancestry—making it the largest-ever multi-ancestry study. 

Including diverse population samples from African, American, East Asian, and European ancestries significantly improved the accuracy of such studies. Moreover, using this multi-ancestry model, researchers were able to identify about 721 genetic variants that would have otherwise remained unassociated or unstudied. Liu and his team are now open to collaborating with researchers with access to additional data sets to expand the scope of the study and further encompass global genetic diversity.