Background: Family History of Alcoholism and earlier Age of Onset are found to predict Severity of alcoholism. Previous Indian studies in this regard have methodological issues related to the definition of alcoholism and reliability of information obtained.
Aims: To study the relationship between the Age of onset/Family History and Severity of alcoholism.
Settings and design: Consecutively admitted, 20 to 50 year old men, with alcohol-related problems at an urban teaching hospital, were recruited.
Materials and methods: After detoxification, alcohol use detection inventory test, severity of alcohol dependence questionnaire, schedule for clinical assessment in neuropsychiatry, and family interview for genetic studies were administered. Family history density was computed.
Statistics: Pearson's correlations, linear regression, and ANOVA tests were used.
Results: Family history density and severity of alcoholism were positively correlated. Age of onset of initiation had a significant negative correlation with severity. The effect of family history on the rapidity of development of Problem-drinking did not reach statistical significance among those with early age of onset. The variance explained by the 'family history status' and 'age of onset' for the severity of alcoholism was similar to that reported in earlier western studies.
Conclusion: This study, with enhanced methodology, using a general hospital sample of problem drinkers concludes that the age of onset of initiation is a better predictor of severity of alcoholism, than family history of alcoholism alone. Postponing the use of alcohol till the age of 25 years could be explored as a primary prevention strategy in genetically vulnerable adolescents.
Keywords: Age of onset; alcoholism; family history density; prevention; problem drinking; severity.