Although alcohol dependence (AD) is approximately 50% heritable, little is known about how specific genetic loci affect AD risk. In a genome-wide association study (GWAS), we identified highly significant associations between two population-specific functional variants in the alcohol dehydrogenase 1B gene (ADH1B) and AD in African-Americans (AAs; rs2066702) and European-Americans (EAs; rs1229984). In the current study, we determined which specific diagnostic criteria contributed to the observed associations of ADH1B SNPs with AD. Our analysis included both the DSM-IV and DSM-5 diagnostic systems. We also investigated the relationship of ADH1B variants to the maximum number of drinks consumed in a 24-hour period (MaxDrinks), a presumed intermediate phenotype of AD. We found that, although all criteria made strong individual contributions to the associations, the largest contributions came from those reflecting neuroadaptation: tolerance (rs2066702) and withdrawal (rs1229984). Overall, evidence for association with DSM-5 criteria was slightly stronger than for DSM-IV criteria. For rs2066702, results were similar for DSM-IV and DSM-5 criteria. However, the most significant DSM-5 criterion associated with rs1229984 was alcohol-related social/interpersonal problems. Both ADH1B variants were associated with MaxDrinks, a measure of innate tolerance, and MaxDrinks mediated the associations between ADH1B and alcohol outcomes. We replicated the findings for rs2066702 and tolerance in an independent sample of AAs. Taken together, these results suggest that variation in ADH1B affects the adaptation to heavy drinking, highlighting population-specific differences in genetic risk for AUD. They also suggest that the revisions reflected in DSM-5 AUD may enhance the utility of that diagnosis for gene finding.
In this study, we sought to test whether specific alcohol dependence criteria contributed to associations between ADH1B gene variants and alcohol use disorders. The largest contributions came from criteria that reflect neuroadaptation, with tolerance being most significant for the association with rs2066702 in AAs and withdrawal being the most significant contributor to the association with rs1229984 in EAs. We replicated the findings for rs2066702 and tolerance in an independent sample. ADH1B appears to influence the neuroadaptation to heavy drinking.