Background: Regular drinking by age 14 years is a significant risk factor for alcoholism, and genetically informative data suggest that whether a young adolescent abstains or drinks is largely attributable to familial (or other shared) environmental factors.
Methods: Three consecutive birth cohorts of Finnish twins, enrolled into a longitudinal study at age 11 to 12 years, completed a follow-up questionnaire within 3 months of their 14th birthdays. The sample included 1380 twin sisters and 1330 twin brothers at age 14, and at that age, 35.4% reported using alcohol. Genetic analyses (model-fitting of twin pair data) and epidemiological analyses (logistical regressions of data from individual twins) were conducted to examine predictive factors of drinking versus abstinence at age 14.
Results: Polychoric correlations were substantial across all same-sex twin pairs but were lower for brother-sister twins, suggesting significant influences of common environments, with some sex-specific effects. Common environmental effects were equivalent in male and female adolescents and accounted for 76% of the total variation in abstinence/drinking. Logistical regression analyses among 2206 individual twins with complete data on risk-relevant measures at both baseline and follow-up identified significant predictors of drinking or abstaining at age 14, including female sex, twin sibling of the opposite sex, accelerated pubertal development, and the twins’ assessments, made at age 12, of reduced parental monitoring and a less supportive home atmosphere; drinking at age 14 was also predicted by behaviors rated by the twins’ classroom teachers 2 years earlier, increasing with rated behavioral problems but decreasing with rated emotional problems.
Conclusions: Our results show that environmental factors shared by twin siblings account for most of the variance in abstaining or drinking at age 14. We identify predictors of drinking in the adolescent twins’ home environments and in their dispositional behaviors, sibling interactions, and pubertal timing.