New Clues on Alcoholism in Families
Personality Traits, Family History May Matter, Study Shows
WebMD News Archive
April 24, 2006 -- Researchers have identified several traits that may
increase the risk of alcoholismfor
people who have a family history of alcoholism.
The finding comes from a study of 175 young adults without alcoholism. Half
of the participants had a family history of alcoholism.
Participants took memory, personality, and gambling tests. Among the
- Memory scores were lower in less-inhibited people with a family history of
- Risky behavior on the gambling test was more common among men with a family
history of alcoholism, compared with those not from alcoholic families.
If confirmed, those patterns may help predict and treat at-risk people, note
William Lovallo, PhD, and colleagues in Alcoholism: Clinical &
Lovallo directs the Behavioral Sciences Laboratory at Oklahoma City's
Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
The study doesn't paint a picture of all people with a family history of
Past studies have shown that people with a family history of alcoholism,
especially men, are more likely to develop alcoholism than the general public,
note Lovallo and colleagues. But not everyone with alcoholic relatives develops
Lovallo's team searched for traits that might make a difference in
"Having the ability to decipher the brain characteristics of people who
we think are at risk for alcoholism allows us to begin to talk about the
process, about brain mechanisms, and how an inherited risk may be expressed
through a person's behavior," Lovallo says in a news release.
"If you come from a family with alcoholism, and you also tend to like to
take risks, break rules, etc., which are all part of behavioral disinhibition,
you should be aware that you're manifesting some high-risk
characteristics," he continues, adding that "parents and teachers may
also want to be aware of these characteristics."
Alcoholism in the Family
Participants were about 23 years old, on average. They answered questions
about their parents' and grandparents' drinking habits.
The researchers checked those reports with most of the participants'
parents. A total of 87 participants had a family history of alcoholism in which
either or both parents had alcohol problems.
Participants took personality tests measuring behavioral control and
antisocial behavior. They tested their working memory by reading aloud color
words printed in mismatched ink. For example, the word "blue" might
have been written in green ink. The participants first read aloud the printed
color word and then went through the same list, but this time had to identify
To gauge risk-taking and decision-making traits, the researchers gave
participants a gambling test using four decks of cards with financial risks and
The findings weren't identical for all participants with family histories of
For instance, poorer memory scores were only seen when family history of
alcoholism was combined with lower behavioral control as measured by
personality tests. Also, the tendency toward risky plays in the gambling test
was only seen in men, not women, with a family history of alcoholism.
The study doesn't show which participants (if any) later developed
alcoholism. "These findings are not secondary or consequential to a history
of drinking but reflect the familial and personal characteristics of those
subjects at high risk for developing alcoholism," Lovallo says in the news