A low level of response to drinking has been found as the biggest cause of heavy drinking and alcohol-related problems, the National Institute of Alcoholism and the International Society for Biomedical Research has found. The study was conducted in the United Kingdom.

"The effect of a low level of response (LR) on later heavier drinking actually occurs through a process of a series of steps," explained Marc A. Schuckit, distinguished professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego.

"An individual is likely to consume the amount of alcohol needed to achieve the desired effects, if more alcohol is required for such effects, they are likely to drink more per occasion, the low LR contributes to association with peers who are likely to have a similar response to alcohol...and peer influences encourage alcohol to cope with lifes problems." he said.

The study examined a large sample of teenage/adolescents in the United Kingdom.

"The question to ask here is 'why do some kids drink a lot and why do others not drink so much?" said Schuckit.

Because it's genetic - or so they think - LR, a doctor's diagnosis for a cause of heavy drinking, is thought to be curable if identified early: "If you identify the kids who are at risk for heavy drinking early in life, this will allow you to work with them to start a prevention trial - that is, working to change 40 to 50 percent of the LR effect that is the environment."

Schuckit believes that the LR model demonstrated would work very well in the U,K where it is a newer concept: "Our findings demonstrate that the LR model used in the U.S. also worked very well in another country such as the U.K.,” Schuckit said.

The findings, which will be published in the October 2011 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, are currently available online.

Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research (ACER) is the official journal of the Research Society on Alcoholism and the International Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism. Co-authors of the ACER paper, "Testing a Level of Response to Alcohol-Based Model of Heavy Drinking and Alcohol Problems in 1,905 17-Year-Olds," were: Tom L. Smith and Sandra Brown of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego; Jon Heron, Matthew Hickman, John Macleod, Glyn Lewis, Luisa Zuccolo, Laura L. Miller, and George Davey-Smith of the MRC Centre for Causal Analyses in Translational Epidemiology in the School of Social and Community Medicine at the University of Bristol; John M. Davis of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois; and Joseph R. Hibbeln of LMBB at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The study was funded by the UK Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, and the University of Bristol.