• Alcohol Consumption;
  • Alcohol Dependence;
  • Twin Studies;
  • Heritability

Background:  Genetic factors impact substantially both on alcohol consumption (AC) and on the risk for alcohol dependence (AD). However, we know little about the degree to which measures of AC index the genetic risk for AD.

Methods:  We assessed a lifetime history of AD by DSM-IV criteria and four measures of AC at the time of heaviest drinking (drink frequency, regular quantity, maximum quantity, and drunk frequency) in 5,073 adult twins from same-sex pairs from the Virginia Twin Registry. Structural models were fitted using Mx.

Results:  We found evidence for different genetic structure in the sexes. In women, genetic risk for AD and for the four measures of AC was entirely shared. In men, the AC measures captured 85% of the genetic risk for AD. In women, the genetic relationship with AD was strongest for drunk frequency and in men for both drunk frequency and regular quantity.

Conclusions:  In a population-based sample of twins, four relatively simple measures of AC obtained for the time of lifetime heaviest drinking were able to capture all (in women) or a very large proportion (in men) of the genetic risk for the complex multi-dimensional construct of AD. If replicated, these results have practical implications for studies aiming to assess genetic risk for AD.