Discovery Fit & Health
According to the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, more than 17 million U.S. citizens abuse alcohol or are alcoholics, with 10 percent of men and 3 to 5 percent of women becoming alcoholics at some point in their lives. (Men, in general, are more likely to become alcoholics than women, although women tend to experience more physical problems, such as liver disease, from their alcoholism.) Furthermore, men who consume 14 or more drinks a week and women who drink more than seven put themselves at risk for alcoholism, which is more prevalent between the ages of 18 and 44 than afterward. In addition, people with low self-esteem or feelings of depression often turn to alcohol for relief. Family history factors also play a role: Children of alcoholics are four times more likely to become alcoholics than children of non-alcoholic parents. Other risk factors for alcoholism include starting drinking at an early age, which can increase the incidence of alcohol dependence or abuse [source: Mayo Clinic].
It's long been thought that genetics plays a factor in the incidence of alcoholism in a person. Researchers in 2008 discovered an area of the human genome that seems to decide for alcohol drinkers how strongly they feel the effects of the beverage. That could help people assess how predisposed they might be toward alcoholism. Furthermore, such knowledge of the region -- known as chromosome 15 -- and its relation to alcoholism could help create better targeted treatments [source: Physorg].
More recently, a 2011 psychological study found that a significant risk for alcoholism was present in people who had a low level of response (LR) to alcohol, and that the low LR was influenced genetically. In a nutshell, low-LR subjects have difficulty recognizing the impact of moderate alcohol use on cognitive function, increasing the likelihood they will consume heavier amounts of alcohol, and likewise increasing their risk for alcoholism. The presence of this genetic characteristic, called a phenotype, could, again, help identify at-risk people before alcohol use becomes a problem [source: Science Daily].
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