Binge Drinking Actually Changes Your DNA, According To New Study

A group of people clinking beer glasses.
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A new study on the effects of drinking alcohol is a real buzz killer for frequent imbibers. Scientists looked at the way that alcohol impacts our DNA, and found that not only can overdoing it harm your health, but it can actually alter your DNA. These genetic changes can cause you to crave more alcohol, exacerbating the cycle of abuse.

New research from Rutgers University published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research found that people who drink too much, too often, disrupt two important genes. The first governs your circadian system — also known as your biological clock — while the other manages your stress response.

“We found that people who drink heavily may be changing their DNA in a way that makes them crave alcohol even more,” said study co-author and endocrinologist Dipak K. Sarkar. “This may help explain why alcoholism is such a powerful addiction, and may one day contribute to new ways to treat alcoholism or help prevent at-risk people from becoming addicted.”

According to the study’s authors, alcohol disorders impact 75 million people around the world — with about 1 in 5 people who imbibe eventually developing some kind of dependence. As a result, alcohol abuse is one of the leading causes of death in the United States.

The study helps shed light on why so many of us keep returning to a substance that often ends up leaving us feeling like death warmed over the next morning. While many people turn to booze for its ability to mute inhibitions and to ramp up the pleasure center in our brains, some find it hard to know when to stop.

The study examined 47 people, mostly men, whose blood was analyzed as part of a larger experiment into drinking behaviors. All of the individuals were non-smokers who confessed to being moderate to heavy drinkers. The individuals spent 3 days in the hospital, where they were subject to images meant to raise their stress response. These sessions were followed by a period of beer drinking.

Heavy drinkers consistently drank more in the study, and their genes showed an epigenetic change — which is when a gene’s code remains the same, but its expression changes.

Of course, such a small sample size means that we don’t have any definitive answers, yet — but the study is a good start into understanding human behavior around alcohol. This isn’t the first study to show the dangerous link between alcohol abuse and health, but it does demonstrate the outsized impact the substance can have on individuals.