Genetic and environmental contributions to alcohol dependence risk in a national twin sample: Consistency of findings in women and men

A. C. Heath*, K. K. Bucholz, P. A F Madden, S. H. Dinwiddie, W. S. Slutske, L. J. Bierut, D. J. Statham, M. P. Dunne, J. B. Whitfield, N. G. Martin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

698 Scopus citations


Background. Genetic influences on alcoholism risk are well-documented in men, but uncertain in women. We tested for gender differences in genetic influences on, and risk-factors for, DSM-III-R alcohol dependence (AD). Method. Diagnostic follow-up interviews were conducted in 1992-3 by telephone with twins from an Australian twin panel first surveyed in 1980-82(N = 588 respondents). Data were analysed using logistic regression models. Results. Significantly higher twin pair concordances were observed in MZ compared to DZ same-sex twin pairs in women and men, even when data were weighted to adjust for over-representation of well-educated respondents, and for selective attrition. AD risk was increased in younger birth cohorts, in Catholic males or women reporting no religious affiliation, in those reporting a history of conduct disorder or major depression and in those with high Neuroticism, Social Nonconformity, Toughmindedness, Novelty-Seeking or (in women only) Extraversion scores; and decreased in 'Other Protestants', weekly church attenders, and university-educated males. Controlling for these variables, however, did not remove the significant association with having an alcoholic MZ co-twin, implying that much of the genetic influence on AD risk remained unexplained. No significant gender difference in the genetic variance in AD was found (64% heritability, 95% confidence interval 32-73%). Conclusions. Genetic risk-factors play as important a role in determining AD risk in women as in men. With the exception of certain sociocultural variables such as religious affiliation, the same personality, sociodemographic and axis I correlates of alcoholism risk are observed in women and men.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1381-1396
Number of pages16
JournalPsychological Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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