Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

Font Size

Unlocking the Genetic Mysteries of Alcoholism

WebMD Health News

May 19, 2000 (Chicago) -- We all know heredity plays a big part in alcoholism. We've seen the patterns that run in families: Johnny is an alcoholic, just like his dad and his dad before him. But how important is heredity? Do we learn bad -- and good -- habits from our parents, or are they preprogrammed in us, passed down in our genetic makeup?

This is the same question medical researchers have been trying to answer for many years. Every now and again, someone makes a small discovery that helps us understand who we are and what made us that way. New research presented here at the 153rd annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) does just that.

According to researcher Patricia I. Ordorica, MD, something called OPRMI -- a particular genetic version of a molecule known to trap chemical impulses in the brain -- may explain why some people are more prone to become hooked on alcohol. In a recent study, Ordorica examined a group of alcoholics and found they are 2.5 times more likely to have the bad version of the OPRMI gene than are nonalcoholics -- including people who never drink as well as those who drink socially but don't get addicted.

Investigators are also curious to know whether a genetic tendency to alcoholism might make a person more likely to become addicted to other substances, such as tobacco. Therefore, Ordorica and her colleagues looked at whether the addiction-connected form of OPRMI was commonly found in smokers.

Importantly, they found that smokers were no more likely to have the substance in their bodies, which seems to mean that this particular gene is specifically connected to alcoholism.

"[T]hese results are another reason to be optimistic about our increasing knowledge of the major public health problem of alcoholism," says Ordorica, who is associate chief of staff for mental health and behavioral sciences at the Tampa VA Medical Center and director of addictive disorders at the University of South Florida.

"Although we are learning that genetic factors [are] important in the development of this illness, a lot of people still think that these are bad people," she says. "While no one gene causes alcoholism, genetic factors clearly account for a significant amount of the risk for the development of alcoholism."

Today on WebMD

child ignored by parents
prescription pain pills
Woman experiencing withdrawal symptoms
Teen girl huddled outside house
Man with glass of scotch
overturned shot glass
assortment of medication
Depressed and hurting