Psychological Medicine



Co-morbidity and familial aggregation of alcoholism and anxiety disorders


K. R. MERIKANGAS a1c1, D. E. STEVENS a1, B. FENTON a1, M. STOLAR a1, S. O'MALLEY a1, S. W. WOODS a1 and N. RISCH a1
a1 Departments of Epidemiology and Psychiatry, Yale University School of Medicine and Department of Genetics, Stanford University School of Medicine, CT, USA

Abstract

Background. This study examined the patterns of familial aggregation and co-morbidity of alcoholism and anxiety disorders in the relatives of 165 probands selected for alcoholism and/or anxiety disorders compared to those of 61 unaffected controls.

Methods. Probands were either selected from treatment settings or at random from the community. DSM-III-R diagnoses were obtained for all probands and their 1053 first-degree relatives, based on direct interview or family history information.

Results. The findings indicate that: (1) alcoholism was associated with anxiety disorders in the relatives, particularly among females; (2) both alcoholism and anxiety disorders were highly familial; (3) the familial aggregation of alcoholism was attributable to alcohol dependence rather than to alcohol abuse, particularly among male relatives; and (4) the pattern of co-aggregation of alcohol dependence and anxiety disorders in families differed according to the subtype of anxiety disorder; there was evidence of a partly shared diathesis underlying panic and alcoholism, whereas social phobia and alcoholism tended to aggregate independently.

Conclusions. The finding that the onset of social phobia tended to precede that of alcoholism, when taken together with the independence of familial aggregation of social phobia and alcoholism support a self-medication hypothesis as the explanation for the co-occurrence of social phobia and alcoholism. In contrast, the lack of a systematic pattern in the order of onset of panic and alcoholism among subjects with both disorders as well as evidence for shared underlying familial risk factors suggests that co-morbidity between panic disorder and alcoholism is not a consequence of self-medication of panic symptoms. The results of this study emphasize the importance of examining co-morbid disorders and subtypes thereof in identifying sources of heterogeneity in the pathogenesis of alcoholism.


Correspondence:
c1 Address for correspondence: Dr Kathleen R. Merikangas, Genetic Epidemiology Research Unit, Yale University School of Medicine, 40 Temple Street, New Haven, CT 06510, USA.


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