Background: Offspring of individuals with alcoholism are at increased risk for psychiatric illness, but the effects of gender on this risk are not well known. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that the gender of the parent with alcoholism and the gender of offspring affect the association between parental alcoholism and offspring psychiatric illness.
Method: We analyzed the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) data to examine the gender-specific prevalence of axis I and axis II disorders in 23,006 male and 17,368 female respondents with and without a history of paternal or maternal alcoholism. Adjusted odds ratios were calculated for the disorders based on gender and presence of maternal or paternal alcoholism.
Results: Maternal or paternal alcoholism was associated with a higher prevalence of every disorder examined, regardless of the gender of offspring. Gender-related differences in prevalences were present in nearly all examined disorders, and the association between parental alcoholism and offspring psychiatric disorders was significantly different in men and women. These differences included stronger associations in female offspring of men with alcoholism (alcohol abuse without dependence); in female offspring of women with alcoholism (mania, nicotine dependence, alcohol abuse, and schizoid personality disorder); in male offspring of men with alcoholism (mania); and in male offspring of women with alcoholism (panic disorder).
Conclusions: Interactions between gender and parental alcoholism were specific to certain disorders but varied in their effects, and in general female children of women with alcoholism appear at greatest risk for adult psychopathology.