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Member Research and Reports

Researchers Find the Effects of Genetics and Social Network on Continued Drinking Behaviors among Young Adolescents in Taiwan

Both variants of alcohol-metabolizing genes and social network contribute to subsequent drinking behaviors among the alcohol-experienced children during the transition into young adolescence, and the observed genetic effects are modified by the stage of pubertal development, according to a study by researchers at National Taiwan University (NTU) and other institutes. This study has been published in the February issue of Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

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[Photo: Dr. Chuan-Yu Chen (left) and Dr. Wei J. Chen]

Building upon a series of prior studies supported by Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology to the research team comprising researchers in National Yang-Ming University, NTU, and National Health Research Institutes, the present study showed that the complex dance between nature and nurture in the evolution of drinking behavior problems may take effects during the first years of second decade of life.

Conducted by Dr. Te-Tien Ting, a former doctoral student at NTU and currently a postdoctoral fellow at Academic Sinica, and her advisors Drs. Wei J. Chen & Chuan-Yu Chen, the study is aimed to evaluate the effects of genetic variants of ADH1B and ALDH2 and social network position on continued alcohol use in early adolescence, and to explore possible moderating role of pubertal development. Utilizing a subsample of 496 children who have ever drank alcohol before the ages of 10–12 from the on-going longitudinal study “Alcohol-Related Experiences among Children (AREC)”, information pertaining to sociodemographic background, pubertal development, parental drinking, tobacco use, alcohol-metabolizing genes, and nominated best friends was collected in four waves of assessments during elementary and middle schools. Polymorphisms of ADH1B (rs1229984) and ALDH2 (rs671) were genotyped. On the basis of best friends’ nomination, each youngster’s position in his/her social network (e.g., bridge) was obtained via the Pajek network analysis.

Through the latent class analysis, three distinct classes of young alcohol users were first identified: ex-drinkers (35.1 percent), sporadic drinkers (46.2 percent), and continued drinkers (18.7 percent). Further multinominal logistic regression analyses indicated that the protective effects of alcohol-metabolizing genes appear only significant for youngsters in pre-to-early pubertal stage: the adjusted odds ratio (aOR) of ADH1B fast-genotype for sporadic drinkers was 0.47 and that of ALDH2 slow-genotype for both sporadic and continued drinkers was 0.47 and 0.44, respectively. Importantly, children having the bridge position in their peer network were more likely to be continued drinkers (aOR=3.01) and sporadic drinkers (aOR=4.06)

The research team believes that this research may carry an important message for parents, school teachers/consultants, and public health professionals, who often deal with underage drinking behaviors and problems at home, school, and community. As Dr. Ting notes, “children who occupied the bridge position connecting different subgroups in peer network may have greater opportunities to meet drinkers or to have easier access to alcoholic beverages.”“While the genetic fabric may restrain some children from drinking behavioral involvement, such protective effects may be possibly masked by advanced pubertal development during early adolescence.” Drs. Chen say.