CONTACT: BECKY SOGLIN
(319) 335-6660; fax (319) 335-8034
2130 Medical Laboratories
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-8032; fax (319) 335-8034
Release: Aug. 23, 1999
UI study links parental alcoholism to kids' specific
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- For several decades, parental alcoholism
has been associated with increased psychiatric or behavioral problems in children.
Current University of Iowa Health Care research suggests that children of
alcohol-dependent parents are at greater risk for several different types
of childhood psychiatric disorders. The study also showed that when a parent
has both alcoholism and antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), the alcoholism
seems to contribute more to a child's behavioral difficulties.
"Probably the worst type of alcoholism involves those
who drink and who also have aggressive behavioral problems," said Samuel Kuperman,
M.D., UI associate professor of psychiatry and lead investigator. "However,
our research showed that in families with alcoholism and antisocial personality
disorder, the children's psychiatric problems are related more to the parents'
alcoholism than to the ASPD."
People with antisocial personality disorder are prone
to getting into fights, have difficulty holding down jobs or putting down
roots, tend to be promiscuous, violate general societal rules, and are at
increased risk for suicide attempts.
The UI study is part of an ongoing, six-site collaborative
study on the genetics of alcoholism. Kuperman and colleagues at the UI and
Washington University analyzed interviews of 463 children ages 7 to 17 and
their biological parents, making it the largest investigation of its kind
to date. The study also investigated more psychiatric diagnoses than previous
related investigations have.
The investigators found that parental alcoholism increases
the likelihood of childhood ADHD, conduct disorder and overanxious disorder.
The combination of parental alcoholism and antisocial personality disorder
puts children at greater risk for oppositional defiant disorder.
Conduct disorder involves aggression, defiance of
authority, getting into trouble with the law and blaming others for one's
own problems. Some 40 percent of children with conduct disorder will develop
ASPD. Oppositional defiant disorder is less severe than conduct disorder in
that it does not involve physical aggression or legal mishaps.
The researchers also found that boys tended to have
more problems with the three disruptive disorders known as ADHD, conduct disorder
and oppositional defiant disorder. Girls showed more anxiety problems such
as separation anxiety. Older children tended to have more conduct disorder
problems than younger children, which had been suspected in the past but never
"We originally looked for a genetic link between the
parents' alcohol-dependence and the children's disruptive disorders," Kuperman
said. "We could not find a specific connection because the elements are so
intertwined. You can't separate what is familial and what is genetic.
"It may be that these children are predisposed to
having some sort of problem, and that at different ages and in different genders
the disorders are expressed differently," he said.
The researchers also found that dysfunctional family
interactions between the parents and the children were also associated with
increased risks for the development of conduct disorder, alcohol abuse and
marijuana abuse in the children.
"The study made us wonder: If family relations can
be improved, can these symptoms be improved?" Kuperman said. "But this begs
the question of which comes first. Bad kids can bring out the worst in parents,
and bad parents can bring out the worst in kids. It works both ways."
Kuperman said the findings are already helping the
researchers investigate whether certain behaviors such as ADHD precede alcoholism.
In this particular study, children of alcohol-dependent
parents did not appear to be at increased risk for developing alcoholism.
However, Kuperman said the lack of correlation most likely reflects the child
participants' average age of 12.
"It's pretty rare for children to begin drinking below
the age of 13," he said, "but by age 17 about 10 percent of children in families
with alcoholism are abusing alcohol themselves."
Kuperman, the only child psychiatrist on the research
team, said that compared to participants in previous studies, the study's
participants were more representative of alcohol-dependent families in the
general population. Instead of recruiting families only through alcohol treatment
programs or child psychiatry clinics, the researchers included extended families
of up to four generations.
"We had the advantage of looking not just at the sickest
people who have alcohol-related diagnoses, but entire families," he said.
"We saw a spread of problems, and did not just study families who had parents
in treatment for alcoholism."
Kuperman said the researchers greatly appreciated
the effort the families made to participate in the study and fill out questionnaires,
which took six to eight hours to complete.
The findings were published in a recent issue of the
Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
The other institutions involved in the Collaborative
Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism are the State University of New York at
Brooklyn, the University of Connecticut at Farmington, Indiana University
in Indianapolis, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of
California at San Diego. The collaborative study is funded by grants from
the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.