Gene-environment interactions occur when different surroundings make it more or less likely for a particular trait or disorder to develop.
The concept of ‘alcogenic’ environments describes features, such as alcohol outlet density or marketing, which influence patterns of alcohol consumption.
A recent study, which analysed longitudinal data of 18–26-year-olds, has examined the link between genetic variation in alcohol problems and the number of alcohol outlets in a community.
The results from the study found that:
- There was evidence to suggest that the extent of genetic and environmental influences on alcohol problems varied with the density of alcohol outlets in the community.
- The heritability of alcohol problems for those residing in a neighbourhood with more than 10 on-premises outlets was 78% compared with 11% for those in a community with no on-premises outlets.
Overall the results suggest that in environments with fewer alcohol outlets and availability the genetic predisposition to develop problems is dampened. However, in environments where there is greater availability of alcohol the genetic predisposition is heightened.
The researchers suggest that people who are genetically predisposed to develop alcohol problems may be especially sensitive to the influence of alcohol outlet density in their community. This has potential implications for the design of prevention interventions.