Pathways to post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol dependence: Trauma, executive functioning, and family history of alcoholism in adolescents and young adults

Brain Behav. 2020 Nov;10(11):e01789. doi: 10.1002/brb3.1789. Epub 2020 Sep 29.


Introduction: Family history (FH) of alcohol dependence is likely to increase the risk of trauma exposure, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and alcohol dependence. FH of alcohol dependence and trauma has been separately shown to adversely affect planning/problem-solving aspects of executive function. However, few studies have examined these risk factors in an integrated model.

Methods: Using data from trauma-exposed individuals from the Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism prospective cohort (N = 1,860), comprising offspring from alcohol-dependent high-risk and comparison families (mean age [SE] = 21.9 [4.2]), we investigated associations of trauma (nonsexual assaultive, nonassaultive, sexual assaultive) with DSM-IV PTSD and alcohol dependence symptom counts, and planning/problem-solving abilities assessed using the Tower of London Test (TOLT). Moderating effects of family history density of alcohol use disorder (FHD) on these associations and sex differences were explored.

Results: Family history density was positively associated with PTSD in female participants who endorsed a sexual assaultive trauma. Exposure to nonsexual assaultive trauma was associated with more excess moves made on the TOLT.

Conclusion: Findings from this study demonstrate associations with PTSD and alcohol dependence symptom counts, as well as poor problem-solving ability in trauma-exposed individuals from families densely affected with alcohol dependence, depending on trauma type, FHD, and sex. This suggests that having a FH of alcohol dependence and exposure to trauma during adolescence may be associated with more PTSD and alcohol dependence symptoms, and poor problem-solving abilities in adulthood.

Keywords: alcoholism; executive function; post-traumatic stress disorder; trauma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Alcoholism* / epidemiology
  • Alcoholism* / genetics
  • Cohort Studies
  • Executive Function
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / genetics
  • Young Adult