Multiple psychiatric disorder risk for families with alcohol dependence

First-degree relatives of people dependent on alcohol are not only at increased risk of becoming addicted to alcohol and other drugs such as cocaine, but also of developing psychiatric disorders such as depression and panic disorder, study findings indicate.

Noting that alcohol dependence tends to aggregate within families, John Nurnberger (Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, USA) and colleagues analyzed data from the family collection of the Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism to assess whether other psychiatric disorders may be also be more common in families with a history of alcoholism.

Data were available for 8296 relatives of people with alcohol dependence and 1654 individuals with no family history of alcoholism.

The rate of DSM-IV alcohol dependence was 28.8% for relatives of people with the condition, compared with 14.4% for controls.

Overall, relatives of alcoholics were twice as likely to become addicted to alcohol as people without a family history of alcohol dependence.

Relatives of alcohol-dependent individuals were also at an increased risk of becoming addicted to other drugs, including cocaine, marijuana, opiates, sedatives, and stimulants. The greatest risk was for cocaine dependence, with relatives of individuals with alcoholism more than three times as likely as those without a family history of alcoholism to become dependant on the drug.

Moreover, relatives of alcoholics had a higher risk of depression, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and antisocial personality disorder than controls.

“The aggregation of antisocial personality disorder, drug dependence, anxiety disorders, and mood disorders, suggests common mechanisms for these disorders and alcohol dependence within some families,” Nurnberger et al write in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

This represents a “shared specific genetic vulnerability,” they say, which puts people at risk of a number of psychiatric disorders if they have a family history of alcohol dependence.

Research Source: Arch Gen Psychiatry 2004; 61: 1246-1256