Psychological Medicine

Original Articles

Alcohol and illicit drug dependence among parents: associations with offspring externalizing disorders

N. R. Marmorsteina1 c1, W. G. Iaconoa2 and M. McGuea2

a1 Rutgers University, Camden, NJ, USA

a2 University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA


Background Previous research indicates that alcohol and drug dependence constitute aspects of a general vulnerability to externalizing disorders that accounts for much of the parent-offspring resemblance for these and related disorders. This study examined how adolescent offspring risk for externalizing psychopathology varies with respect to parental alcoholism and illicit drug dependence.

Method Data from the Minnesota Twin Family Study, a community-based investigation of adolescents (age 17 years, n=1252) and their parents, were used. Lifetime diagnoses of alcohol and drug dependence (among both parents and offspring) and offspring attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, adult antisocial behavior, and nicotine dependence were assessed via structured interviews.

Results Parental alcohol dependence and parental drug dependence were similarly associated with increased risk for nearly all offspring disorders, with offspring of alcohol and drug-dependent parents having approximately 2–3 times the odds for developing a disorder by late adolescence compared to low-risk offspring. Compared to parental dependence on other illicit drugs, parental cannabis dependence was associated with weaker increased risk for offspring externalizing disorders.

Conclusions Both parental alcohol and drug dependence are independently associated with an increased risk for a broad range of externalizing psychopathology among late-adolescent offspring.

(Received June 08 2007)

(Revised January 10 2008)

(Accepted February 01 2008)

(Online publication April 15 2008)


c1 Address for correspondence: N. R. Marmorstein, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Rutgers University, Camden, 311 North 5th Street, Camden, NJ 08102, USA. (Email: