Sex differences in the heritability of alcohol problems

Am J Addict. 2008 Jul-Aug;17(4):319-27. doi: 10.1080/10550490802139010.


Genetic factors may have a role in defining more coherent clinical phenotypes and subtypes in the DSM-V. Research has demonstrated that there are gender differences in the patterns of alcohol consumption, specific symptom endorsement, withdrawal effects, and rates of alcohol use disorders (AUD). We examined the sex-specific heritability of diagnostic symptoms for alcohol-related problems in a community-based sample of twin pairs (males: n = 519; females: n = 613) using a biometrical analytic strategy to estimate the genetic and environmental components of AUD symptoms. Five of the seven symptoms of alcohol problems demonstrated sex-differences in heritability. Three of the seven symptoms examined had significant heritability in female twins only: "increased risk of injury or harm," "emotional problems related to drinking," and "the desire to drink." In males, a different pattern was observed, with four of the seven examined symptoms demonstrating heritability: "Increased chance of injury or harm," "spending more time using alcohol or getting over its effects," "using larger amounts for longer periods of time than intended," and "the need to use more alcohol to get the same effect." These data suggest that alcohol problems in females and males may be etiologically distinct, and that diagnostic criteria and therapeutics might be enhanced if these sex differences were taken into consideration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / genetics
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology
  • Alcoholism / genetics*
  • Diseases in Twins / epidemiology*
  • Diseases in Twins / genetics*
  • Female
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / epidemiology
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Ratio
  • Social Environment
  • United States