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Purpose: Abstract for poster submission to VCU Poster Symposium for

Undergraduate Research and Creativity

Title: The Metabolism of Alcohol: Risk and Protective Factors

Background: In 2002, it was reported by the National Institutes of Health that

60.3% of college aged students (18-22) drank alcohol in the past month of being

asked, as compared to 51.9% of those not in college. They also found that 20% of

college students met the criteria for at least one alcohol use disorder (AUDs)1.

Many genes have been linked to an increased risk for AUDs and how individuals

with various ethnic backgrounds respond to alcohol. Genes that metabolize alcohol

are obvious candidate genes for alcohol-related phenotypes. The purpose of this

presentation is to synthesize information about the key genes involved in alcohol

metabolism, as documented in the literature.

Methods: The information about each gene was found through a literature search

using databases including PubMed, Google Scholar, and cited references from

relevant papers. For database searches, the names of the genes were used as well as

terms such as AUDs, alcohol metabolism, and alcohol and aldehyde dehydrogenase.

The focus of the presentation will be relevant to college-aged students, but rely on

research done in college and adult populations due to a lack of sufficient college-

aged gene-based studies in this area.

Results: Alcohol metabolism genes affect how individuals process and respond to

alcohol. The main genes that have been studied are alcohol and aldehyde

dehydrogenase genes. Alcohol dehydrogenase genes, like ADH1B and ADH1C, first

metabolize ethanol (alcohol) into the by-product acetaldehyde and acetaldehyde is

then metabolized by aldehyde dehydrogenase genes, like ALDH2, into the waste

product acetate2. Many of the adverse effects associated with alcohol consumption

are due to the build up of acetaldehyde. Some of these effects include facial blushing,

nausea, headaches, and other similar alcohol sensitivity symptoms3,6. Acetaldehyde

builds up in an individuals body after alcohol consumption if he or she has a super-

active isoenzyme from the ADH1B and/or ADH1C genes and/or a slow ALDH2

enzyme. Individuals with the super-active alcohol dehydrogenase isoenzyme and

slow aldehyde dehydrogenase enzyme are less likely to develop AUDs due to the

negative effects from excess acetaldehyde in the body4,5,6. However, this also implies

that individuals who do not exhibit the described protective phenotype are more

likely to endorse increased drinking behaviors and AUDs. Spit for Science: the VCU

Student Survey is currently investigating these genes and their association with

alcohol consumption and alcohol use disorder symptoms. Due to the diverse nature

of the sample, the researchers are able to explore ethnic differences in these alcohol

metabolism genes and their effects.

Implications: In general, the more public knowledge about these genes and

research findings, the more at-risk individuals can get help and diagnosis. A better

understanding of aggregate effects of alcohol metabolism genes, as well as more

information regarding ethnic differences in the distribution of genetic variants

which impact alcohol processing, will assist researchers and health professionals

working with those at risk for AUDs.

Publication Date


Subject Major(s)

Science, Genetics


alcohol, metabolism, dehydrogenase, acetaldehyde, ethanol, alcoholism, AUD


Biochemical Phenomena, Metabolism, and Nutrition | Community Health and Preventive Medicine | Enzymes and Coenzymes | Genetic Processes | Medical Education

Current Academic Year


Faculty Advisor/Mentor

Amy Adkins, Ph.D

Faculty Advisor/Mentor

Danielle Dick, Ph.D

Faculty Advisor/Mentor

Karen Chartier, Ph.D


© The Author(s)

The Metabolism of Alcohol: Risk and Protective Factors