The negative effects of excessive alcohol use include dependence, psychiatric co-morbidity and increased risk for suicide. A dominating risk factor is heritage. A large number of studies have addressed the genetic basis, either “candidate genes” in the brain reward system, or searched for unknown genes in family studies by linkage analysis. It is clear that no single gene polymorphism is of use in preventive medicine. A consistent finding, however, is that polymorphism in the alcohol dehydrogenase cluster and other metabolic pathways are of some relevance on a population basis, suggesting a link between alcohol toxicity in general and dependence. An emerging concern is potential gender differences as women, who are generally more sensitive, acquire male drinking habits.