Psychiatric disorders in adult children of problem drinkers: prevalence, first onset and comparison with other risk factors

Addiction. 1999 Oct;94(10):1489-98. doi: 10.1046/j.1360-0443.1999.941014895.x.


Aims: (1) To confirm the increased risk of psychiatric disorders in Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOAs); (2) to test if the age of onset of the disorders differs for ACOAs versus non-ACOAs; (3) to estimate the weight of being an ACOA compared to other risk factors including childhood traumas, other parental problem behaviours and current risk factors.

Design, setting, and participants: A random sample of the Dutch population (N = 7147) was interviewed (response rate: 69.7%).

Measurements: Psychiatric disorders were assessed using the CIDI. Parental problem drinking, other parental problem behaviours and childhood traumas were assessed using self-report measures.

Findings: (1) ACOAs had a significantly higher life-time, 12-month and 1-month prevalence of mood, anxiety and abuse/dependence disorders. Sons of problem drinkers also had a higher prevalence of eating disorders and schizophrenia. The prevalence rates were particularly high for the children of fathers with drinking problems. (2) The first onset of the mood and anxiety disorders took place at a younger age in ACOAs than in non-ACOAs. (3) Relative to other parental problem behaviours and childhood traumas, parental problem drinking is a strong predictor of psychiatric disorders, in particular abuse/dependence disorders.

Conclusions: Children of fathers with a drinking problem are a high-risk group for psychiatric disorder. From a public health perspective it is an important target to break through this continuing circle. The further development of prevention and early treatment interventions at schools, youth care and addiction treatment centres is an important issue.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcoholism*
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Behavior
  • Child of Impaired Parents / psychology*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / epidemiology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Parent-Child Relations
  • Psychotic Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Psychotic Disorders / psychology
  • Risk Factors
  • Schizophrenia / epidemiology
  • Schizophrenic Psychology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology