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A study now suggests that young people who seem most in control may be at greatest risk for alcoholism in the long run. Over a 10 year period, men who initially showed a high tolerance for alcohol were more than 4 times as likely to become alcoholics as more susceptible drinkers who also had an alcoholic parent, the risks were even greater – nearly 60% of that group became alcohol abusers after 10 years.

Between 1979 and 1983, Dr. Marc Schuckit, a psychiatrist at the University of California at San Diego Medical School, and his colleagues interviewed 454 20-year-old men who had similar drinking habits: Half had an alcoholic father and half had no family history of alcoholism. The researchers rated sensitivity to alcohol according to subjective feelings of “Sleepiness” or “floating sensations” and also by how subjects scored on coordination tests after having about 4 drinks.

A decade later, 43% of those who had scored in the lowest 20% on the original test – that is, those who had been least affected by alcohol – had gone on to become full-fledged alcoholics, while only 11% of those who had been most sensitive to alcohol had turned into chronic abusers. Among those who had both an alcoholic father and a low sensitivity to alcohol, fully 56% had become alcoholics, compared with only 14% of the alcoholics’ sons who were alcohol sensitive 10 years earlier.