Is There a Link Between Blue Eyes and Alcoholism?

August 31, 2015

Researchers now believe that eye color indicates more than a random throw of the genetic dice.

A new study published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics: Neuropsychiatric Genetics (Part B) found that European Americans who have blue eyes may be at higher risk of developing a dependence upon alcohol as compared to peers who have brown eyes. According to the study, genes that indicate an increased risk of alcohol use and abuse are connected to the same chromosome as the genes that determine eye color. This finding could improve our understanding of alcoholism and addiction in general, says HealthDay, and its cause specifically, helping to prevent the disorder when possible and to better treat it when it occurs.

Arvis Sulovari of the University of Vermont was a co-author of the study. In a news release, he said: “This suggests an intriguing possibility that eye color can be useful in the clinic for alcohol dependence diagnosis.”

These findings are preliminary, however, and more research is necessary to understand the connection between blue eyes and rates of alcohol use disorders.

No Absolutes

Though this study suggests that there may be a connection between blue eyes and an increased risk for an alcohol use disorder, it doesn’t mean that having blue eyes guarantees that recreational drinking will inevitably evolve into alcoholism. Similarly, it doesn’t mean that those who have brown eyes or green eyes are “safer”in experimenting with alcohol, nor that those who have blue eyes and are living with an alcohol use disorder are “fated”to the problem with no recourse.

This is one study among thousands that identified a potential connection between certain chromosomes and alcohol abuse and addiction — and a preliminary study that has yet to be repeated for confirmation and a better understanding of where the connections lie and why.

What Can We Learn?

The human body is a complex and delicate system that can be deeply impacted by seemingly insignificant details — small changes, shifts, or exposures. New research is continually exposing new facts and information that help us to see how drug and alcohol abuse and dependence impact the body — and vice versa. This information is hugely valuable, providing us with insight that empowers new efforts in prevention and treatment, improving the lives of those who may potentially develop a substance abuse problem as well as those currently in need of care and rehabilitation.

Are You at Risk for an Alcohol Use Disorder?

No matter what your eye color, you could be at an increased risk for the development of an alcohol use disorder if you:

  • Have family members who struggle with a substance abuse or addiction problem
  • Grew up in an environment that was permissive of frequent and/or heavy use of alcohol or other substances
  • First used drugs or alcohol at an early age
  • Commonly turn to drugs or alcohol to manage uncomfortable emotions, including depression, anxiety, grief, boredom, anger, and others
  • Get behind the wheel after drinking or using drugs, including prescription or over-the-counter medications
  • Live with a mental health disorder (e.g., a mood disorder, anxiety disorder, eating disorder, personality disorder, etc.)

What Are the Signs of an Alcohol Use Disorder?

There are a number of different types of alcohol use disorders (e.g., binge drinking, heavy drinking, alcoholism, etc.), and each one is characterized by a different pattern of drinking. For example, those who struggle with binge drinking may not drink all week long but drink more than four drinks (for women) or five drinks (for men) on Friday and Saturday nights. In fact, this is a relatively common issue in the US: About one in every six Americans reports binge drinking approximately four times per month, consuming about eight alcoholic beverages each time. And binge drinking can be just as physically harmful to a person’s health as chronic drinking.

In general, however, some signs of an alcohol use problem of any kind include experiencing some or all of the following issues in the past year:

  • Frequently drinking more alcohol, more often, or for a longer period of time than originally intended
  • Often trying to stop drinking or to moderate alcohol intake but being unable to maintain sobriety for any period of time
  • Frequently making choices under the influence that endanger the safety of oneself or others
  • Needing to drink more and more to feel a “buzz”or get drunk
  • Continuing to drink despite an increase in alcohol-related negative consequences (e.g., health problems, problems at work, difficulties at home, etc.)
  • Continuing to drink despite blacking out while under the influence
  • Spending more and more time drinking and avoiding activities where drinking would be impossible
  • Experiencing legal problems due to issues related to drinking or choices made under the influence
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when without alcohol (e.g., shaking, nausea and vomiting, rapid heartbeat, insomnia, and more)

What Are the Signs of Co-Occurring Disorders?

Addiction-Is-A-Disease

It is interesting to note that, of the more than 10,000 people included in the University of Vermont study, all had at least one mental health disorder and many had multiple mental health issues, ranging from depression to bipolar disorder to schizophrenia, in addition to a drug or alcohol problem. This is, in fact, far from uncommon: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that in 2012 an estimated 8.4 million people were living with both a substance abuse disorder and a mental health disorder.

That is to say, when someone struggles with mental health symptoms, it is not unlikely that they will also struggle with substance abuse or addiction. In fact, it may be an even more prominent indicator of an increased risk of an alcohol use disorder than eye color.

Blue eyes, brown eyes, green eyes, or hazel — if alcohol abuse is a problem, with or without co-occurring mental health symptoms, comprehensive treatment is the best possible way to manage the issue.

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