Background. Frequency and quantity of alcohol consumption are metrics commonly used to measure alcohol consumption behaviors. Epidemiological studies indicate that these alcohol consumption measures are differentially associated with (mental) health outcomes and socioeconomic status (SES). The current study aims to elucidate to what extent genetic risk factors are shared between frequency and quantity of alcohol consumption, and how these alcohol consumption measures are genetically associated with four broad phenotypic categories: (i) SES; (ii) substance use disorders; (iii) other psychiatric disorders; and (iv) psychological/personality traits.
Methods. Genome-Wide Association analyses were conducted to test genetic associations with alcohol consumption frequency (N = 438 308) and alcohol consumption quantity (N = 307 098 regular alcohol drinkers) within UK Biobank. For the other phenotypes, we used genome-wide association studies summary statistics. Genetic correlations (rg) between the alcohol measures and other phenotypes were estimated using LD score regression.
Results. We found a substantial genetic correlation between the frequency and quantity of alcohol consumption (rg = 0.52). Nevertheless, both measures consistently showed opposite genetic correlations with SES traits, and many substance use, psychiatric, and psychological/personality traits. High alcohol consumption frequency was genetically associated with high SES and low risk of substance use disorders and other psychiatric disorders, whereas the opposite applies for high alcohol consumption quantity.
Conclusions. Although the frequency and quantity of alcohol consumption show substantial genetic overlap, they consistently show opposite patterns of genetic associations with SES-related phenotypes. Future studies should carefully consider the potential influence of SES on the shared genetic etiology between alcohol and adverse (mental) health outcomes.