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Blue-Eyed Individuals Are More Likely To Be Alcoholics: Coincidence Or Evidence Of An Alcoholic Gene?

blue eye
What is the cause behind the link between blue eyes and alcohol dependency? Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

A new study suggests that individuals with light eyes are at a higher risk for alcohol dependency than those with darker eyes, adding further evidence to the idea that alcoholism has a genetic component.

For the study, which is now published in the July issue of the American Journal of Medical Genetics: Neuropsychiatric Genetics, Arvis Sulovari and Dawei Li, both from the University of Vermont, analyzed data on 1,263 white Americans with alcohol dependency problems. According to the press release, from this data the team found that alcohol dependency increased as eye color lightened and individuals with blue eyes had the strongest incidence of alcohol dependency. It’s not entirely clear as to why there is a connection between alcohol dependency and eye color, but the team believes the link is not pure coincidence. Upon closer examination, the data revealed that the genetic components that determine eye color line up along the same chromosome as the genes related to excessive alcohol use.

“This suggests an intriguing possibility — that eye color can be useful in the clinic for alcohol dependence diagnosis,” Sulovari explained in the press release.

This is not the first study to find a link between eye color and alcohol consumption. A 2000 study revealed that among female drinkers, those with light eyes consumed more alcoholic beverages over the course of a month than brown-eyed women.

For years, researchers have been looking for the elusive alcohol gene, and recent research has shown that, like blue eye gene, many potential genes linked to alcohol dependency overlap with other traits. For example, a 2014 study found that the GRM3 genetic mutation, which is found in around one in every 200 people, could be tied to not only alcoholism but also schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Neurofibromatosis type 1, also known as Nf1, is another gene believed to be tied to alcohol dependency. In a 2014 study on the gene, researchers from the Scipps Research Institute analyzed genetic information from 9.000 people and found a strong association between Nf1 and the onset and severity of alcoholism.

Despite these advances in understanding the genetics of alcoholism, many defend the idea that the disorder is more closely tied to environmental factors rather than genetic influences. A 2015 study found links between alcohol dependency and socioeconomic status, which suggests your lifestyle and environment may be just as big an indicator as your DNA in determining whether or not you will develop an alcohol problem.

“There is greater heterogeneity in the drinking patterns for those with lower as compared to higher SES (socioeconomic status),” said Dr. Matt McGue, Regents Professor in the department of psychology at the University of Minnesota, Medical Daily reported. “The low SES group includes more light or abstemious drinkers and more heavy drinkers than the high SES group.”

For now, Sulovari and Li cannot confirm the link between blue eyes and alcohol dependency but plan on continuing their research. The team believes further investigating this finding could not only lead to better alcoholism prevention and treatment methods, but also a better understanding of other psychiatric conditions.

Source: Sulovari A, Kranzler HR, Farrer LA, Gelernter J, Li D. Eye color: A potential indicator of alcohol dependence risk in European Americans. American Journal of Medical Genetics. 2015.

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