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Alcohol + Genetic Variation = Violence

December 18, 2008

When alcohol mixes with a certain highly active gene, the outcome may be aggression and violence.

It is widely known alcohol consumption and violence are related. In addition, crime statistics show most impulsive homicides involve adolescents and middle-aged groups. Researchers in Finland set out to find a link between these elements and violence.

Monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) is a gene that breaks down monoamines like serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine. Some variations of the gene can cause it to be overactive. Researchers looked at the MAOA gene in 174 Finnish alcoholic male offenders to see its impact on alcohol, aging and violence.

They found alcohol and age appear to predict violence. For example, the risk for new violent crimes drops by 150 percent when high-activity MAOA individuals age 20 years. Roope Tikkanen, study author, of the department of psychiatry at Helsinki University Central Hospital in Helinski, Finland, says the decline in impulsive-aggressive behavior with aging among high-activity MAOA offenders may be due to a correction of low central serotonin levels in the central nervous system.

Tikkanen cautioned against genetic testing for individuals worried about their risk, saying the average person probably differs in many other ways from offenders in the study.

“For instance, the average Finnish consumption is two drinks a day or 10 kg pure alcohol per year, whereas the upper 10 percent of violent offenders drink approximately one 0.75 liter bottle of liquor a day or around 100 kg pure alcohol a year,” Tikkanen was quoted as saying.

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, 2009

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