Your risk of alcoholism may be linked to your eye color

Jul 2, 2015 at 1:05 p.m. ET
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This may not be the thing you want to hear before heading into a long weekend usually filled with alcoholic beverages but a new study has found a link between alcoholism and lighter-colored eyes, specifically blue eyes. So aside from wearing sunglasses this weekend to protect your baby blues, you might also want to watch your drinking habits.

Both my fiancé and I have blue eyes, so the news of this study was definitely somewhat off-putting, especially because we're both far from alcoholics. However, once I got past the initial feeling of being judged, the science behind the study was actually pretty fascinating.

Researchers at the University of Vermont looked at 1,263 European-Americans and found rates of alcohol dependence to be higher in people with light-colored eyes (blue, green, gray, hazel) vs. dark brown eyes. Out of the people with light-colored eyes, the blue-eyed individuals had the highest rates of all. But the correlation didn't stop there. They also found a connection between the genes for lighter eye color and the genes for alcoholism. Apparently the genes interact with each other, meaning the existence of one might encourage the existence of the other.

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However, the correlation they found is not so cut-and-dried. Alcoholism is not as simple a genetic trait as hair or eye color. Like most mental disorders, it's heavily influenced by how one is nurtured and one's environment. Assistant Professor of microbiology and molecular genetics Dawei Li, Ph.D., told the University of Vermont, “These are complex disorders. There are many genes, and there are many environmental triggers.”

Naturally more testing has to be done to solidify the correlation. They have to replicate the study to see if they get the same results. If they do, then they'll know the link is likely more genetic rather than environmentally or culturally based.

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This is not the first time a study has found a link between alcoholism and eye color. Back in 2000, a study at Georgia State University found similar results — one sample in particular noted women with light eyes drank an average of 5.78 drinks in a month versus women with brown eyes, who only drank 4.91. While this may not sound like the biggest difference (nor really that much alcohol over a month, if you ask me), it was enough of a correlation to connect the two studies.

According to Medical Daily, there's also a correlation between blue eyes and lower pain tolerance and higher levels of competitiveness. When you factor pain and anxiety from being hyper competitive into it, it's no wonder blue-eyed folks tend to drink more. I know, I know, it's not the point of the study, but I couldn't help myself. The researchers at University of Vermont hope their findings will lead to better and earlier diagnoses of alcoholism and perhaps more effective treatments of the mental illness. I hope so too, because I have a ton of blue-eyed friends, family members and actor crushes that this could potentially affect.

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