The Washington University twin study of alcoholism

Carol A. Prescott, Constance B. Caldwell, Gregory Carey, George P. Vogler, Susan L. Trumbetta, Irving I. Gottesman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Genetic contributions to the liability to develop alcoholism in males of Northern and Western European ancestry are well-established. However, questions remain concerning the role of genetic variation in the etiology of alcoholism among non-white populations, among women, and the possibility of etiological heterogeneity in subtypes of alcoholism. The answers to these questions are needed to help define phenotypes for molecular genetic studies searching for QTLs for alcoholism. Twins from 295 pairs were consecutively ascertained at inpatient and outpatient psychiatric and alcohol treatment facilities in St. Louis, MO in 1981-1986. Probands and willing cotwins were evaluated by structured psychiatric interviews, psychometric assessment, and lifetime treatment records. One hundred fifty-four probands met criteria for alcohol abuse/ dependence (AAD), including twins from 45 MZ, 50 same-sex DZ, and 59 opposite-sex pairs. Twin-pair resemblance was evaluated for AAD and alcohol dependence (AD), as well as for subsets defined by gender, patterns of comorbidity, ethnic background, and clinical features. Among males, heritability of AAD and AD was substantial, with little evidence for common environmental contributions to family resemblance. Pair resemblance among females was also substantial, but similar for MZ and DZ pairs, yielding near-zero heritability estimates. However, based on these sample sizes, the sex differences were not statistically significant. The results confirm prior studies of strong genetic influences on alcoholism in males, but suggest lower genetic influence in females. Power to test other sources of heterogeneity was limited, but the results suggest no evidence for higher heritability for male early onset alcoholism or for alcoholism with comorbid antisocial personality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)48-55
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Medical Genetics - Neuropsychiatric Genetics
Volume134 B
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 5 2005


  • Alcohol abuse
  • Alcohol dependence
  • Heterogeneity
  • Sex differences

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