The contribution of parental alcohol use disorders and other psychiatric illness to the risk of alcohol use disorders in the offspring

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2011 Jul;35(7):1315-20. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2011.01467.x. Epub 2011 Apr 19.


Background: Few population-based studies have investigated associations between parental history of alcoholism and the risk of alcoholism in offspring. The aim was to investigate in a large cohort the risk of alcohol use disorders (AUD) in the offspring of parents with or without AUD and with or without hospitalization for other psychiatric disorder (OPD).

Methods: Longitudinal birth cohort study included 7,177 men and women born in Copenhagen between October 1959 and December 1961. Cases of AUD were identified in 3 Danish health registers and cases of OPD in the Danish Psychiatric Central Register. Offspring registration with AUD was analyzed in relation to parental registration with AUD and OPD. Covariates were offspring gender and parental social status.

Results: Both maternal and paternal registration with AUD significantly predicted offspring risk of AUD (odds ratios 1.96; 95% CI 1.42 to 2.71 and 1.99; 95% CI 1.54 to 2.68, respectively). The association between maternal, but not paternal, OPD and offspring AUD was also significant (odds ratios 1.46; 95% CI 1.15 to 1.86 and 1.26; 95% CI 0.95 to 1.66, respectively). Other predictors were male gender and parental social status. A significant interaction was observed between paternal AUD and offspring gender on offspring AUD, and stratified analyses showed particularly strong associations of both paternal and maternal AUD with offspring AUD in female cohort members.

Conclusions: Parental AUD was associated with an increased risk of offspring AUD independent of other significant predictors, such as gender, parental social status, and parental psychiatric hospitalization with other diagnoses. Furthermore, this association appeared to be stronger among female than male offspring. The results suggest that inherited factors related to alcoholism are at least as important in determining the risk of alcoholism among daughters as among sons.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / complications
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Child
  • Child of Impaired Parents*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / complications
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Parents / psychology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Registries
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors