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Familial influence and childhood trauma in female alcoholism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 July 2011

Å. Magnusson*
Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
C. Lundholm
Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
M. Göransson
Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
W. Copeland
Center for Developmental Epidemiology, Duke University, Durham, NC, USA
M. Heilig
Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden Laboratory of Clinical and Translational Studies, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Bethesda, MD, USA
N. L. Pedersen
Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden
*Address for correspondence: Å. Magnusson, M.D., Ph.D., I 66, BCS (The Center for Dependence Disorders in Stockholm), Karolinska Universitetssjukhuset, Huddinge, 141 86 Stockholm, Sweden. (Email:



To assess the role of genetic and environmental factors in female alcoholism using a large population-based twin sample, taking into account possible differences between early and late onset disease subtype.


Twins aged 20–47 years from the Swedish Twin Registry (n=24 119) answered questions to establish lifetime alcohol use disorders. Subjects with alcoholism were classified for subtype. Structural equation modeling was used to quantify the proportion of phenotypic variance due to genetic and environmental factors and test whether heritability in women differed from that in men. The association between childhood trauma and alcoholism was then examined in females, controlling for background familial factors.


Lifetime prevalence of alcohol dependence was 4.9% in women and 8.6% in men. Overall, heritability for alcohol dependence was 55%, and did not differ significantly between men and women, although women had a significantly greater heritability for late onset (type I). Childhood physical trauma and sexual abuse had a stronger association with early onset compared to late onset alcoholism [odds ratio (OR) 2.54, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.53–3.88 and OR 2.29, 95% CI 1.38–3.79 respectively]. Co-twin analysis indicated that familial factors largely accounted for the influence of physical trauma whereas the association with childhood sexual abuse reflected both familial and specific effects.


Heritability of alcoholism in women is similar to that in men. Early onset alcoholism is strongly association with childhood trauma, which seems to be both a marker of familial background factors and a specific individual risk factor per se.

Original Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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