Mothers’ maximum drinks ever consumed in 24 hours predicts mental health problems in adolescent offspring


  • Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared.

Steve Malone, University of Minnesota, 75 East River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA; Tel: 612/626-1436; Fax: 612/626-2079; Email:


Background:  The maximum number of alcoholic drinks consumed in a single 24-hr period is an alcoholism-related phenotype with both face and empirical validity. It has been associated with severity of withdrawal symptoms and sensitivity to alcohol, genes implicated in alcohol metabolism, and amplitude of a measure of brain activity associated with externalizing disorders in general. In a previous study we found that the maximum number of drinks fathers had ever consumed in 24 hrs was associated with externalizing behaviors and disorders in preadolescent and adolescent children. The purpose of the present study was to determine whether maternal maximum consumption has similar correlates.

Method:  We examined associations between maternal maximum consumption and alcohol dependence, respectively, and disruptive disorders and substance-related problems in two large independent population-based cohorts of 17-year-old adolescents.

Results:  Maximum consumption was associated with conduct disorder, disruptive disorders in general, early substance use and misuse, and substance disorders in adolescent children regardless of sex. Associations were consistent across cohorts, providing internal replication. They also paralleled our previous findings regarding paternal status. They could not be explained by maternal alcohol dependence, effects of drinking during pregnancy, or paternal maximum consumption. They were not simple artifacts of the fact that maximum consumption is a continuous measure while alcohol dependence is dichotomous.

Conclusions:  Despite deriving from a single question about lifetime behavior, parental maximum consumption appears to reflect vulnerability for mental health problems, especially substance-related ones, more directly than a diagnosis of alcohol dependence.