People who have a low response to alcohol or the so called ability to "drink anyone under the table" could be exhibiting the start of full-blown alcoholism.
A 25-year study of 453 men had shown that a low response to alcohol in youth had a correlation with the onset of the "perfect storm" of alcoholism in later life according to one of the world's leading experts on the link between alcoholism and genetics.
Mark Schuckit, professor of psychiatry at the University of California, said that most people began drinking for the effect of alcohol not for its taste, and a low response to alcohol usually meant that they consumed more to gain the same effect as normal people.
Often such people find themselves eventually drinking more and mixing with their heavier drinking peers.
He said, "A low response to alcohol is related to a higher alcoholism risk. We are now trying to find the genes -- and there may be many -- that affects a level of response. Many of the people who later became alcoholic said that in their early days they could drink anyone under the table. They don't realise what is happening to them because they hang around people who drink like they do. It can be difficult for them to realize the troubles they are developing."
This research has been published in this month's issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research and in last month's Journal of Studies on Alcohol. Dr Schuckit spoke yesterday in Sydney at the World Congress on Alcohol Research, organized by the International Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism.
Dr Schuckit said that people with a low response to alcohol would probably go out drinking all night to "get a buzz", while others get a similar effect from a few drinks.
According to him if people at high risk of alcoholism could be identified genetically early, then help could be provided. He said, "If you understand the mechanisms you can grab people younger and teach them the things to avoid."
He said that the conference in Australia was aimed at highlighting the problems that could develop from heavy alcohol use and lead to better treatments and better drugs.
He said, "There is a very blase attitude in Australia to drinking and its hazards. It is so culturally acceptable that people don't realise what is happening until the organ damage is already done. That is one of the important messages to get through to the public, the organ damage that can be done through drinking excessively."