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DRD4 polymorphism moderates the effect of alcohol consumption on social bonding.
Development of interpersonal relationships is a fundamental human motivation, and behaviors facilitating social bonding are prized. Some individuals experience enhanced reward from alcohol in social contexts and may be at heightened risk for developing and maintaining problematic drinking. We employed a 3 (group beverage condition) ×2 (genotype) design (N = 422) to test the moderating influence of the dopamine D4 receptor gene (DRD4 VNTR) polymorphism on the effects of alcohol on social bonding. A significant gene x environment interaction showed that carriers of at least one copy of the 7-repeat allele reported higher social bonding in the alcohol, relative to placebo or control conditions, whereas alcohol did not affect ratings of 7-absent allele carriers. Carriers of the 7-repeat allele were especially sensitive to alcohol's effects on social bonding. These data converge with other recent gene-environment interaction findings implicating the DRD4 polymorphism in the development of alcohol use disorders, and results suggest a specific pathway by which social factors may increase risk for problematic drinking among 7-repeat carriers. More generally, our findings highlight the potential utility of employing transdisciplinary methods that integrate genetic methodologies, social psychology, and addiction theory to improve theories of alcohol use and abuse.