Background: Familial loading for alcoholism is an important marker of risk for early-onset alcohol problems, but the early expression of this risk in community samples of children is understudied.
Methods: This study tested, for 452 8- and 10-year-old children, whether the density of alcohol problems in their biological relatives was associated with externalizing behaviors that are risk factors for later alcohol problems.
Results: Density of alcohol problems in first- and second-degree biological relatives was associated with behavioral disinhibition (BD; e.g., poor inhibitory control, attentional shifting, β = 0.10, p = 0.04) and conduct problems (CP; i.e., defiance, aggression, delinquency, β = 0.18, p = 0.00). These relations were moderated by parenting practices (parental warmth, discipline consistency, and parental monitoring). The density-behavior association lost statistical significance when at least 2 of 3 parenting practices were rated above median levels for the sample (p = 0.67 to 0.36). The density-behavior association was mediated by current demographic advantage (p = 0.00 for BD, p = 0.00 for CP), current maternal mental health (p = 0.01 for BD, p = 0.00 for CP), and current maternal deviant behavior (for CP only, p = 0.01).
Conclusions: Findings support previously proposed but untested pathways in etiologic models of alcoholism and show the potentially important role of active parenting in reducing the expression of inherited vulnerability to alcoholism in childhood.