MAOA Gene, Childhood Sexual Abuse, and Alcoholism

MAOA Gene, Childhood Sexual Abuse, and Alcoholism

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted June 26, 2007 in DNA and Disease

We need gene therapy for a peaceful world. A world without fear, sadness, shame, anger, and hate. A world of equilibrium. A world of happy shiny shiny happy people.


I’m out of it.

I didn’t know what else to think after reading about a recent study showing that girls with a particular variation of the monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) gene are more prone to developing alcoholism later in life after experiencing childhood sexual abuse. The MAOA gene that results in lower enzymatic activity has already been associated with behavior problems in “maltreated boys” and was also implicated in this study. No such association between the MAOA gene, alcoholism, and antisocial behavior were found in women who had not been abused.

sad woman statueStudy participants were American Indian women who, as a group, are six times more likely to develop alcoholism and antisocial personality disorder than the average US woman. And, half of American Indian women report childhood sexual abuse as compared to 13% in the US population. Can it get any more depressing than this? And what are we supposed to do with results like these?

Clearly, my tongue-in-cheek suggestion of soul and mind-numbing gene therapy is totally inappropriate. But I ask you, so what if genes predispose abused women to alcoholism? We need to focus not on genes but on STOPPING CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE. Then, we can talk about alcoholism and anti-social behavior and perhaps targeting genes that increase a person’s susceptibility. But STOPPING CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE would go a long long way.

The MAOA gene has also been linked to violent behavior. All men belonging to a family in the Netherlands harboring this mutation were arsonists and rapists. And, mice without an MAOA gene have been found to be excessively aggressive. Low-expression of the MAOA gene is linked to violent tendencies.

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and DNA analysis, 142 healthy men and women, who had no history of violence, were shown pictures of angry and fearful faces. Researchers found:

  • Those with the low-expressing version of MAOA were more impulsive.
  • People with low-expressing MAOA had different brain size and activity.
  • Activity of those parts of the brain in males with low-expression MAOA differed more greatly than their female counterparts.

What do you think? Should these findings indicate gene therapy for the toughest members of our criminal society? Ethically speaking, it could be almost as bad as eugenics. There’s a fine line to walk between safety and freedom.

NB: The MAOA gene has also been linked to novelty seeking and reward dependence.

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Comment by NA

Hmm, this is an interesting study. The link shown in this study between MAOA and childhood sexual abuse and the development of alcoholism later in adulthood is an example of a primary incident that develops a secondary disorder from other maladies.

Comment by Hsien

Yes. It seems that life is cruel from beginning to end.

Comment by David Bradley

How many women were in the group, what were the controls, were their accusations of childhood abuse validated, why was an American Indian population studied in isolation. This is intriguing but raises more questions than it answers to my mind.


Comment by Hsien

<p>It was a very unsatisfying study in my opinion. The study had 168 alcoholics (39 with ASPD (antisocial alcoholics) and 123 controls (no alcoholics, no ASPD). And apparently the American Indian population was studied because I believe many tend to live in tight knit communities. I don’t have access to the full paper but the abstract is free

Comment by David Bradley

Yes, I agree. Moreover, the fact that it studied such a tight-knit community means the results may not necessarily be valid for the wider population.



[...] received. Similar to the American Indians who were studied to investigate the relationship between the MAOA gene, childhood sexual abuse, and alcoholism, Amazonian Indians live in closed communities where their lifestyle, living environment, and [...]


Give me a child until he is 7 and I will maketh the man. Can’t remember who said this exactly, but the point is so many young people have their lives moulded out for them in those early learning years. Bad treatment results in character defects later on in life. Heck, there’s enough ‘natural’ flow into the world of alcohol and drugs without these awful adults wrecking lives! Sometimes, I disgusted with mankind’s inhumanity to man! People know what’s right and what’s wrong, and so it’s up to us them to make the right choices, and not give in to selfish temperaments!

Comment by Denny Soinski Subscribed to comments via email

Something just doesn’t seem right. Scientific and medical research keeps uncovering more and more reasons why certain individuals become alcoholics or drug addicts yet the number of people in our society and in the world in general who engage in drug and alcohol abuse and addiction is rising.

As we become more and more “understanding” of the reasons people engage in drug and alcohol abuse and addiction, it seems that we are creating a society of people who possess terrible coping skills and who so easily gravitate toward the “quick fix” of alcohol and drug abuse and addiction.


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