On the same day the Dutch media reported the euthanasia of a 41 year-old alcoholic who saw no point in going on, researchers at King’s College London claim to have discovered a hormone that controls our desire for booze. If this now leads to a pill that can ‘switch off’ addicts’ cravings, it will upturn current thinking on so-called ‘sensible drinking’.
According to a report on the KCL work in The Times, the liver hormone FGF21 sets an individual’s drinking preferences when it interacts with a gene in the brain called beta-Klotho. The study – the biggest-ever of its kind, involving 100,000 people – found that in 40 per cent of participants a particular variant of beta-Klotho was associated with reduced alcohol consumption, while those lacking the gene altogether were significantly more attracted to alcohol and excessive drinking.
This discovery could open up the question of free will and alcohol consumption. It could also give scientific validation to the popular perception that alcoholism ‘runs in families’; and by attaching less blame to cultural and social factors, downgrade the support for education in the face of experience. The argument would be that, if we’re programmed in our choices, we’ll soon know what they are.
On the plus side, then: we could soon have a pill to magic away the personal hell of alcoholism. On the minus: how long before ‘healthists ‘put it in the water?