• Children of Alcoholics;
  • Family Alcoholism Subtypes;
  • Intellectual Functioning;
  • Cognitive Functioning;
  • Academic Achievement

Background: Research on intellectual and cognitive functioning of children of alcoholics has been marked by inconsistency, with some studies unable to document deficits. This discrepancy may reflect the substantial heterogeneity found in the alcoholic population and among families of alcoholics. The current study sought to examine the effects of familial alcoholism subtypes on intellectual, cognitive, and academic performance in early school-aged sons of alcoholics.

Methods: Subjects for the present study were 198 elementary-age boys who were participants in the larger MSU-UM Longitudinal Study. Familial alcoholism subtypes were determined based on fathers' alcoholism and antisocial personality disorder diagnoses. Intellectual functioning was measured with the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Revised (WISC-R); academic achievement was measured with the Wide Range Achievement Test–Revised. In addition, Mazes and Freedom from Distractability factor scores of the WISC-R were used to assess abstract planning and attention abilities.

Results: Children of antisocial alcoholics (AALs) displayed the worst IQ and academic achievement compared with children of nonantisocial alcoholics (NAALs) and controls. In addition, children of AALs displayed relatively poorer abstract planning and attention abilities compared with children from control families. Regression analyses revealed that familial alcoholism subtype continued to account for variance in child intellectual ability even when other factors were excluded.

Conclusions: Findings indicate that children from AAL families are most susceptible to relative intellectual, cognitive, and academic deficits. The study further supports the proposition that familial risk characteristics (i.e., paternal alcoholism and antisociality) may serve as effective indicators of family risk for poor intellectual outcome among offspring as early as the elementary school years.