Genders of alcohol-dependent parents and children influence psychopathology in the children

Jul 20, 2010

Scientists already know that the children of alcohol-dependent (AD) individuals have a greater risk of developing a psychiatric illness, but the effects of gender on this risk are not well known. A new study has found that the effects of parental AD on a child's psychopathology can be different, depending on both the gender of the AD parent and the gender of their child.

Results will be published in the October 2010 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and are currently available at Early View.

"The problems caused by alcoholism are not limited to the individual who suffers from it," said Peter T. Morgan, associate professor of psychiatry at Yale University and corresponding author for the study. " are particularly susceptible to the negative effects of alcoholism in a parent, and adult children of alcoholics are in general at much greater risk for developing every type of ."

"The study by Morgan and his colleagues is noteworthy for several reasons," added Peter E. Nathan, Professor Emeritus of psychology and public health at the University of Iowa. "It examined the interaction of a large number of demographic, social, and psychological/psychiatric variables in a very substantial sample of more than 40,000 men and women. Consonant with prior findings, the study confirmed a significant positive relationship between alcoholism in parents and increased risk of alcoholism and other forms of psychopathology in their adult children. It then took the gender issue an important step further by examining relationships between psychopathology in the male and female adult children of alcoholic parents and the parents' gender. The results? The gender of both the offspring and the parents played determining roles in the psychopathology of the children."

Both Morgan and Nathan said that this is likely the first study to broadly examine how the gender of the alcoholic parent and the child interact to affect the child's risk for a psychopathology. "The several significant interactions they found between the gender of the alcoholic parents and the gender of their children that impacted on the psychopathology in the children … represent a groundbreaking contribution," said Nathan.

Morgan and his colleagues used data from the National Epidemiological Survey on and Related Conditions, examining the gender-specific prevalence of Axis I (clinical disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, social phobia) and Axis II (personality disorders such as paranoia, antisocial and borderline personality) disorders in 40,374 respondents (23,006 males, 17,368 females) with and without a history of paternal or maternal alcoholism.

"The key, new finding of this work is that the effect parental alcoholism has on children is different depending on the gender of the alcoholic parent and the gender of the child," said Morgan. "This is a largely novel finding and raises questions about how this is happening. In particular, this finding opens an avenue for studying interactions between genetics and environment, biological psychiatry, and psychology."

"An unexpected finding," added Nathan, "was that this parent-child influence appears strongest in the female parent-female child pairing, where it was most influential in yielding heightened risk for mania, nicotine dependence, abuse, and schizoid personality disorder. The same interaction was apparently also responsible for lesser findings of increased risk in male parent-male child, male parent-female child, and female parent-male child pairings."

"The day-to-day significance of these findings is two-fold," said Morgan. "First, these findings reiterate how damaging alcoholism can be to the mental health of children who grow up with an alcoholic parent. Second, and particular to this study, these findings indicate that in a family with an alcoholic mother, daughters may be at greater relative risk for developing psychiatric problems. Such information could be used to identify patients at potentially greater risk for certain disorders and could be used to encourage reduction of substance use in parents."

"I would think that a primary health care provider treating a substance abusing woman would want to induce her to enter treatment for her AD as early in its course as possible," added Nathan, "given the likelihood that both she and her children, especially her female children, would likely run an especially high risk of psychopathology. The primary health care provider should also be alert to the heightened possibility of psychopathology in the female offspring of AD women and should, accordingly, help identify prevention/treatment programs for the child as early as possible."

Nathan also said these finding provide a blueprint for future research. "We have long suspected that parental gender plays a role in the etiology of substance abuse," he said. "Now it appears that the gender of their offspring, interacting with that of the parents, helps explain the psychopathology of the offspring. Clearly, expanded scrutiny of gender as a causal factor in the development of psychopathology is called for."

Explore further: Oil-swishing craze: Snake oil or all-purpose remedy?

Provided by Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research

4 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Do toddlers pick up gender roles during play?

Jun 10, 2010

The differences in mothers' and fathers' interactions with their children, particularly in play situations, may influence toddlers' associations of specific behaviors with male and female genders. According to Eric Lindsey ...

Mental disorders in parents linked to autism in children

May 05, 2008

Parents of children with autism were roughly twice as likely to have been hospitalized for a mental disorder, such as schizophrenia, than parents of other children, according to an analysis of Swedish birth and hospital records ...

Do children need both a mother and a father?

Jan 21, 2010

The presumption that children need both a mother and a father is widespread. It has been used by proponents of Proposition 8 to argue against same-sex marriage and to uphold a ban on same-sex adoption.

Recommended for you

Suddenly health insurance is not for sale

Apr 18, 2014

(HealthDay)— Darlene Tucker, an independent insurance broker in Scotts Hill, Tenn., says health insurers in her area aren't selling policies year-round anymore.

Study: Half of jailed NYC youths have brain injury (Update)

Apr 18, 2014

About half of all 16- to 18-year-olds coming into New York City's jails say they had a traumatic brain injury before being incarcerated, most caused by assaults, according to a new study that's the latest in a growing body ...

Autonomy and relationships among 'good life' goals

Apr 18, 2014

Young adults with Down syndrome have a strong desire to be self-sufficient by living independently and having a job, according to a study into the meaning of wellbeing among young people affected by the disorder.

User comments : 0

More news stories

UAE reports 12 new cases of MERS

Health authorities in the United Arab Emirates have announced 12 new cases of infection by the MERS coronavirus, but insisted the patients would be cured within two weeks.

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...