Alcohol Dehydrogenases, Aldehyde Dehydrogenases, and Alcohol Use Disorders: A Critical Review

Howard J. Edenberg, Jeanette N. McClintick

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

26 Scopus citations


Alcohol use disorders (AUDs) are complex traits, meaning that variations in many genes contribute to the risk, as does the environment. Although the total genetic contribution to risk is substantial, most individual variations make only very small contributions. By far the strongest contributors are functional variations in 2 genes involved in alcohol (ethanol [EtOH]) metabolism. A functional variant in alcohol dehydrogenase 1B (ADH1B) is protective in people of European and Asian descent, and a different functional variant in the same gene is protective in those of African descent. A strongly protective variant in aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) is essentially only found in Asians. This highlights the need to study a wide range of populations. The likely mechanism of protection against heavy drinking and AUDs in both cases is alteration in the rate of metabolism of EtOH that at least transiently elevates acetaldehyde. Other ADH and ALDH variants, including functional variations in ADH1C, have also been implicated in affecting drinking behavior and risk for alcoholism. The pattern of linkage disequilibrium in the ADH region and the differences among populations complicate analyses, particularly of regulatory variants. This critical review focuses upon the ADH and ALDH genes as they affect AUDs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2281-2297
Number of pages17
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2018


  • ADH Genes
  • ALDH Genes
  • Alcohol Consumption
  • Alcohol Dependence
  • Alcohol Metabolism
  • Linkage Disequilibrium

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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