Having an alcoholic parent significantly increases a person's risk of abusing drugs and alcohol, according to a study published in a recent issue of Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. The lead authors were David Flora, Ph.D., of York University in Canada, and Laurie Chassin, Ph.D., of Arizona State University.

According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, one in four children under age 18 grows up in a household affected by alcoholism. So, it can be estimated that one in four emerging adults faces an increased risk of alcoholism and drug use.

Can we blame genetics?

"Substance use disorders are multi-determined," Chassin said. "We typically think about 'biopsychosocial' pathways, which are characterized by gene-environment interactions.

"To date, we have not done genetic testing with the sample, but we are starting a new collaboration to do that," she said.

Psychologist Patricia O'Gorman, Ph.D., clinical director of the Berkshire Farm Center Services for Youth in New York, said substance abuse involves two very different pathways.

"One is genetics. You cannot become addicted, even with exposure, unless there is a pre-existing foundation that becomes triggered," she noted. "However, one has to learn to use. Children will follow the example of their parents in their development of values and coping skills, at least initially.

"Seeing addictive using leads to experimentation, use and then the genetics kick in. This is why you see so many children of substance abusers abusing," she said.

The researchers followed 545 adolescents over a period of 15 years to monitor drug use. Drug use typically peaked during emerging adulthood - between ages 18 and 25.

Yet, children of alcoholics maintained consistent drug use, and between the ages of 25 and 30, they used more than children of non-alcoholics. Children of alcoholics didn't follow the typical trend of maturing out of drug use before age 30.

One explanation for the continued drug use is that children of alcoholics are less likely to get married. The federally funded Monitoring the Future project, which studies the behavior of American young adults, reported in 2004 that marriage is consistently associated with declines in alcohol use in general, as well as declines in heavy drinking, marijuana use and cocaine use. Chassin and Flora cited various Monitoring the Future reports in their study.

"Addicition to alcohol has long been known to have a genetic component," said psychiatrist Russell Ricci, M.D., member of Revolution Health Group's Medical Advisory Board. "This study makes the interesting link to a decrease in marriage among young alcoholics."

"Many people used to have something to do. In a marriage, there may be less boredom, and so one has other things to stimulate them," O'Gorman said. "Also, some types of use, such as binge drinking, tend to decrease as one [reaches the] later 20s, correlating also with the age of marriage."

Of course, just having a committed spouse to coach, limit substance use and provide unconditional love also helps curb abuse, O'Gorman said.

Related Links

Genetic link to alcoholism examined

Anxiety plays role in alcoholism

To learn more visit myDNA's Genetics Center

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original article Tue 21 Feb 2006 12:00 AM CST
Reviewed:    February 21, 2006   Rick Nauert, PhD
Source:    Revolution Health News
Copyright:   ?Revolution Health Group