(July 2010) A new Yale University study reveals that gender plays an important role in determining the risk of specific psychiatric illnesses in children of alcoholics. The gender of both the alcoholic parent and the child were key factors in the types of disorders that develop.
The full paper will be published in the October, 2010 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
Parental alcoholism was associated with an overall higher prevalence of psychiatric disorders, regardless of the gender of the children. But when broken down by specific illness, gender-related differences became clear:
• Alcohol abuse: stronger association between alcoholic fathers and their daughters
• Mania, nicotine dependence, alcohol abuse and schizoid personality disorder: stronger association between alcoholic mothers and their daughters
• Mania: stronger association between alcoholic fathers and their sons
• Panic disorder: stronger association between alcoholic mothers and their sons
In addition, researchers found that in general, there was a higher prevalence of any mood or anxiety disorder such as major depression among females, while conduct disorders, pathological gambling, substance abuse and personality disorders were more common among males.
Corresponding author Peter T. Morgan, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, explained why these associations may exist. “There are many possible contributing factors to these findings, and given the different interactions we observed, a single explanation is unlikely. However, the greater impact of maternal alcoholism on the various psychological problems in female offspring may be related in part to the relative absence of a stable female role model when growing up. Supporting this idea is our finding that female offspring of alcoholic mothers showed a pattern of increased odds for the type of disorders that are typically more prevalent in men.”
Researchers hope this study may influence efforts to care for children of alcoholics. Morgan said, “It’s been clear for a long time that children of alcoholics are at greatly increased risk for psychiatric disorders. Being able to describe who is most at risk for what disorder and under what circumstances may guide efforts at efficient prevention, recognition, and treatment.”
Other authors are Rani A. Desai and Marc N. Potenza of the Department of Psychiatry and Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine.