Family aggregation and risk factors in substance use disorders over three generations in a nation-wide study

PLoS One. 2017 May 17;12(5):e0177700. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0177700. eCollection 2017.


Objective: This nation-wide register-based study investigated how often substance use disorders (SUD) and co-morbid disorders occurred in affected families compared to control families.

Method: A total of N = 2504 child and adolescent psychiatric participants who were born between 1969 and 1986 and were registered in the Danish Psychiatric Central Research Register (DPCRR) had a mental disorder before the age of 18 and developed SUD at some point during their life-time. In addition, N = 7472 controls without any psychiatric diagnosis before age 18 and matched for age, sex, and residential region were included. Psychiatric diagnoses of the first-degree relatives were also obtained. A family load component was assessed.

Results: SUD occurred significantly more often in case families than in control families. SUD risk factors included SUD, depression, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, or conduct disorders in the family. Furthermore, male sex, more recent year of birth, and living in the capital city of Copenhagen were also significantly associated with having SUD. The family load explained 30% of the SUD manifestation in the case-probands. The findings in the total SUD group were mostly replicated in the two major subgroups of pure alcohol or multiple substance use disorders.

Discussion: These findings based on a very large and representative dataset provide additional evidence for the strong family aggregation and further risk factors in SUD. The pattern of risk factors is largely the same for the total group of SUD and the major subgroups of pure alcohol and multiple substance use disorders.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anxiety Disorders / complications
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Denmark / epidemiology
  • Depressive Disorder / complications
  • Family*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Odds Ratio
  • Personality Disorders / complications
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / complications
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Young Adult

Grant support

The author(s) received no specific funding for this work.