Risk of alcoholism and parental history: Gender differences and a possible reporting bias

Rosa M. Crum, Emily L. Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Using data from a population-based study, we examined the association of parental history of heavy drinking and depressed mood with the occurrence of alcohol abuse and dependence in the participants, stratified on gender. We hypothesized that a parental history of heavy drinking or depressed mood would have a stronger association with the occurrence of alcohol abuse or dependence among women than among men. Methods. In 1981, collaborators in the National Institute of Mental Health Epidemiologic Catchment Area Program recruited 3,481 adult participants after probability sample selection of census tracts and households in Baltimore, Maryland. To assess the occurrence of psychiatric conditions over time, the Diagnostic Interview Schedule was administered soon after sampling and again at follow-up, roughly 1 year later. At the follow-up interview, parental history of psychiatric conditions was assessed. Individuals who did not complete either the baseline or follow- up interview, or who used a proxy informant were excluded from these analyses. These exclusions left 2,588 household residents who comprised the complete study sample, of which 384 had alcohol abuse or dependence. Results. The degree of association of alcoholism with parental history of heavy drinking or depressed mood is greater for women than for men. Men have an increased risk for alcohol abuse and dependence if they report that father has a history of heavy drinking (OR = 1.6, P < .01). For women, an alcohol disorder is associated with heavy drinking in fathers and in mothers (OR = 2.1, P < .01; OR = 2.6, P < .01, respectively). A similar pattern is found for a parental history of depressed mood. In addition, there is evidence of a possible reporting bias: Men and women with alcohol abuse or dependence are less likely to provide family information than participants without alcohol abuse or dependence. Among men, the presence of missing parental history information is significantly associated with alcohol abuse and dependence. Conclusion. The current report shows evidence for a gender difference in the relationship of parental history of heavy drinking and depression with the risk of alcoholism in offspring, and suggests that the effect of missing information should be considered when analyzing family data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)329-342
Number of pages14
JournalGenetic epidemiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 1 1996



  • abuse
  • alcohol
  • dependence
  • epidemiology
  • family history
  • gender
  • risk
  • risk factor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Genetics(clinical)

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