Drunken Recklessness May Be Genetic

A "relatively common" genetic mutation may trigger poor impulse control, especially when drinking.



Had too much to drink and acted impulsively recently? Blame your genes! At least if you're Finnish, anyway… Research from Finnish scientists shows a "relatively common" genetic mutation in the Finnish population may prompt carriers toward more impulsive or reckless behavior when they consume alcohol. 

According to the study, published November 17 in the journal Translational Psychiatry, more than 100,000 Finns (2.2. percent of the population) carry this serotonin 2B receptor gene mutation. Identified in 2010, it's broadly associated with poor impulse control, a trait the researchers define as "a learned protective mechanism against overt reactions to negative emotions, and also [one that has] has a genetic foundation." 

In the new study, researchers looked at drunken impulse control among 14 carriers of the serotonin 2B receptor mutation and 156 non-carriers, using personality questionnaires, aggression screenings, alcoholism screening tests, and reports of lifetime drinking history. Analyses showed the presence of the mutation "predicted impulsive and aggressive behaviors particularly" when carriers had consumed alcohol. 

The [serotonin 2B receptor mutation] carriers demonstrated aggressive out-bursts, got into fights and behaved in an impulsive manner under the influence of alcohol. They were also arrested for driving while under the influence of alcohol more often than the controls. The HTR2B Q20* carriers were not alcoholics per se, as measured by average alcohol consumption, and were not diagnosed as alcoholics, but they had a tendency to lose behavioral control while under the influence of alcohol.

"The impact of one gene on complex phenomena is typically minor," said lead researcher and University of Helsinki psychiatry professor Roope Tikkanen. "But it is possible to identify the impact of such a genetic mutation in the Finnish population, as our historical isolation has led to a relatively homogenous gene pool." 

In their paper, Tikkanen and team—which includes scientists from the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare, the University of Eastern Finland, New York University School of Medicine, and the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism's neurogenetics laboratory—note that the function of the serotonin 2B receptor gene is "poorly understood, especially in humans." But a pattern is starting to emerge. In addition to impulsivity, their research detected "high prevalence of mood disorder symptoms and emotional dysregulation" among carriers. And although their sample population was small, this finding is backed up by (limited) previous research on the mutation. 

"Apart from overt behavior, we observed an effect … on temperament, as a persistent tendency to react to stimuli in a certain way," they added. "Though not fully consistent, a pattern matching that of a passive-dependent personality emerged. Personality features such as relatively low interest in novelty and exploratory activities, anxiety, fear of uncertainty, attachment or dependence and low persistence were characteristic" of carriers. The mutation may also have a role in insulin and glucose metabolism, though this is speculative, they say.

At any rate, researchers caution that "the small sample size… increases the possibility of spurious results." Sampling was also "compromised by the fact that it was not originally designed for this particular study" and, perhaps more egregiously, the fact that half of the mutation group was comprised of female relatives of violent offenders. The study authors say they "tried to rule out all these … potentially biasing factors by adjusting the regression analysis with a categorical variable separating" the relatives with the gene from the non-relatives with the gene. 

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  1. Having known quite a few Finns, this explains so much

    1. Keep in mind it was Finnish scientists doing the research so they were probably drunk at the time.

  2. What the hell’s wrong with that wallpaper?!? I worked at a company once that let us buy those huge 8×12 foot wall murals, and it was great!!!11!!

    1. It’s like Duck Dynasty meets Martha Stewart. Major decor infraction there. This guy is in serious need of a gay friend.

      1. Hyper, is there something we should know?

        1. About Duck Dynasty or Martha Stewart? I would assume that most are familiar with both.

      2. It’s like Duck Dynasty meets Martha Stewart. Major decor infraction there. This guy is in serious need of a gay friend.

        You shut up! A nautical map, a couple ‘Oil painting on saw blades’, and some framed needlepoint and that place will be set!

        I assume the only reason we aren’t slamming the tweed couch is because hipsters have made it cool again?

    2. Don’t be too harsh, the guy bought it when he was drunk.

      1. I’ll admit that I’ve bought things when I was drunk that I probably would not have bought at that time if I was sober. But none of them are things that I would not have bought at all, I just may have not otherwise bought them that day.

        1. I had a case of Ballast Point shipped to Michigan last year for $120. Completed the purchase online just before the Lions collapsed vs the Cowboys. Yes, I was drunk.

    3. There’s nothing uniquely wrong with wallpaper. As in all things, it’s in the type of wallpaper you use.

      1. On many topics I’m just another blowhard asshole, but on this one I am the expert.

        So, STFU if you disagree.

        1. Nothing wrong with that wall paper that a tactical nuke wouldn’t solve.

  3. Surely I’m not the only 1 who initially read that as “Generic”?

  4. I am reminded of Hemingway’s description of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

  5. At any rate, researchers caution that “the small sample size… increases the possibility of spurious results.” Sampling was also “compromised by the fact that it was not originally designed for this particular study” and, perhaps more egregiously, the fact that half of the mutation group was comprised of female relatives of violent offenders. The study authors say they “tried to rule out all these … potentially biasing factors by adjusting the regression analysis with a categorical variable separating” the relatives with the gene from the non-relatives with the gene.

    Did they perform the analysis drunk? With all the turmoil in higher education I wonder if I can get an advanced degree in irony studies.

    1. It was long way to go before finding out it was a half assed study with dubious results.

    2. Come on, there’s only like 10 people in Finland, what were they supposed to do?

      1. And they’re all white alcoholics.

        But their demographics are so much like the USA that it’s totally relevant when the liberal media use them for comparisons with whatever here.

  6. So strange. I’ve been reading Emil Zola lately. Great novels but I thought marred by his stupid theory that alcoholism was an inherited trait. He uses this device in many ways in various novels, usually artistically (ie, dramatic irony, etc) but still I thought that this detracted from the impact of his fiction, as does his reliance on discredited theories about “criminal physiognomy” and so forth. Now, 150 yrs later there comes some evidence he was right about inherited alcoholism. Will someone now show that phrenology was on the right track? Are we all just stupid, and not just Etienne Lantier (in Germinal), who caused mass slaughter amongst the oppressed French coal miners in 1860s because his socialist activism was his way of avoiding the dreadful effects of his inherited alcoholism?

    1. I’m pretty convinced that heredity is a major factor in drinking habits. Heredity and environment 2nd.

    2. I thought it was pretty widely understood that genetic factors affected an individual’s propensity toward alcoholism.

      1. It most surely does. I think it’s a pretty indisputable fact. I mean, not like global warming, in this case the science is probably settled.

        1. Genetics are a well-known device used to rationalize poor choices that a person makes.

          1. Thank you. I’ve been looking for an excuse for my choices in women.

            1. It’s the jeans!

        2. I didn’t know that. So now I can cross this off my list of Zola’s techniques I find annoying. PS: the idea of “creative destruction” & capitalism was illustrated by Zola (in The Ladies Paradise) maybe a hundred yrs before Shumpeter. Zola did not use the exact phrase of course. But this is the subject of the novel as a whole, esp cap 13, which is marred by the melodrama. I won’t cross “melodrama” off my list of his stylistic devices that annoy me, although I recognize that melodrama sold books back then, which were serialized in magazines before publication, and Zola had to make a living. I just wanted to share that.

    3. Uh. There has been evidence for quite some time that genetics plays a big role in one’s propensity to alcoholism.

      I thought it was pretty common knowledge.

      1. Drinking Is a Choice

        The first thing to understand about abusing alcohol is that it all starts with a first drink and that taking that first sip is a choice. Your genes are not driving that first decision to have a drink. The decision to drink is influenced by such things as your environment, your social situation, friends and peers, family members and the availability of and access to alcohol. Once you have taken that first drink, whether you become a problem drinker becomes less of a choice and is much more influenced by your genetics and family history. If you do have a family history of alcoholism, you can easily choose to never try alcohol. This would take your risk of becoming an alcoholic down to zero


        1. Alcohol is magical. You can get addicted to drugs, but alcohol creates something magical, known as an alcoholic, which is not addiction, but a disease.

          Also, alcohol is not a drug, but a beverage that you can enjoy with your dinner or just with some cheese. You know, unlike evil drugs which you cannot take with cheese or enjoy the taste of. So you see, an alcoholic is just a person who enjoys too much cheese.

          And this, children, is why alcohol is legal and drugs are not.


          1. I thought Alcohol was legal because there was no black market in it.

          2. evil drugs which you cannot take with cheese or enjoy the taste of

            So, your saying that weed and coke are OK too, then, right?

  7. poor impulse control + alcohol + coyote ugly == a lifetime of disability checks from the government

    1. And a fat ugly alcoholic wife with no teeth, *shudder*.

      And dumb ugly children.

      /shoots self

      1. Dammit man, you shoot the dumb ugly children, then the fat ugly alcoholic wife, and *then* you shoot yourself.

        Poorly-thought out suicidal rampages are a pet peeve of mine.

        1. There oughta be a law against that.

          1. Congress must do something!

            1. Anything!

  8. Looks like Mr. Bad Wallpaper has about a pint of brandy(?) in that snifter. Yikes.

  9. This study is useless. It’s based on 14 people and those are compromised by confounding factors. The sample isn’t just small, it’s minuscule. It’s based on self-reported behaviors and questionnaires. The very most that can be said of this is that it might point the way for further research.

    1. ^This. This is exactly the sort of underpowered, subjective study that the reproducibility crisis should condition everyone to just ignore, and that will hopefully go away soon.

      Also the word “predicted” doesn’t actually mean causation here. There is no evidence of causation anywhere.

      1. But could the study be tweeted in 160 characters?

  10. I inherited it from you, alright? I inherited it from being your son.

  11. scientists shows a “relatively common” genetic mutation in the Finnish population may prompt carriers toward more impulsive or reckless behavior when they consume alcohol

    This is caused by 11.5 months of winter and 5 months of total darkness a year. This is not surprising at all. How would that not drive anyone to seek comfort in alcohol to ward off the depression? High vitamin supplementation might help a little.

    I read a very interesting article written by a guy who lived in Greenland for a year. He said the favorite pastime there is getting drunk in the bars and then getting into fights and beating the shit out of each other in the streets. The next day, everyone forgets about whatever happened the night before and do the same thing again.

  12. That dude is lookin like 5 miles of hard road put away wet.

    1. But enough about me. What about the guy in the picture?

  13. It’s not my fault! Woo hoo!

  14. I used to know a guy who was from one of the Nordic countries. Norway actually, if I remember correctly. He was a pretty hardcore drinker.

    One time he told me that he was driving to work that morning and he stopped at a stoplight and had a sudden memory flashback ‘Wow, I ordered fish online last night!’. I guess his wife was pretty stunned later that morning when a guy showed up at the door with 20 lbs of salmon.

    1. Mmmmmmmm…. Salmon…..

    2. Trust a Scandinavian to drunk-order a box of fish. I bet his wife was pretty pissed when they didn’t have enough oven cleaner to make lutefisk out of all of it and she had to run to the store AGAIN even though she just went grocery shopping yesterday GUD FAEN.

  15. Well, that explains the Kennedys.

  16. Hold my beer while I read this story.

  17. The thing is, I can definitely see how a gene for drunken recklessness could propagate itself.

    1. I can also see how a gene for drunken recklessness could be in the fast lane for termination.

      Maybe it all balances out, a gene that breeds a lot but lives dangerously.

  18. Fuck you, Elizabeth, you bitch!

    1. Hey, sorry about that outburst.*

      *contrite and hangs head

      1. “Screw you, bitch! I’ll be at Duane’s!” [slap]

  19. I think we should continue to hold people responsible for their choices anyway.

    Has science figured out why the Finns make such great goalies?

    1. They had lots of practice guarding their borders from Russian Refugees with Mosin Nagants.

    2. They’re drunk most of the time. Duh.

      1. Coming from a person who played goalie from age 5 until about 22 when I partially came to my senses. You have to be drunk and/or crazy to stick your face in front of vulcanized rubber.

        1. Maybe the Finns are toughened by icicles constantly falling on their heads or from their constantly falling into crevices (pronounced cre – vos – es) in the glaciers (pronounced glos – ee – ers).

    3. snow blindness from their pasty skin?

    4. Wide hips? Coincidently, good for birthing babies as well.

      1. Did someone say wide hips?

        *sits up like Meerkat*

  20. That guy’s got a duck flying out of his ear!

  21. One of my high school buddies seemed to have as his goal in life to drink himself to death “just like Dad”, as we used to say, half in jest. And at the tender age of 51, he succeeded. A decades long suicide, just like Dad.

    Oh, and his surviving brother is a raging alcoholic, too.

  22. Soudns like some serious busines dude.

  23. So, you may have your genes to blame for reckless, drunken behavior.

  24. Baumeister, in his book on will power, suggested that self-control depends on glucose levels. That may be the pathway here.

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