Skip to main content
Find a DoctorGet Care Now
Skip to main content
Search icon magnifying glass






Gender influences risk of mental illness in children of alcoholics

Yale University Press Release

New Haven — A new Yale University study reveals that gender plays an important role in determining the risk of specific psychiatric illnesses in children of alcoholics. The gender of both the alcoholic parent and the child were key factors in the types of disorders that develop. The full paper will be published in the October, 2010 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, but results of the study are available now on the journal's "Early View."

Parental alcoholism was associated with an overall higher prevalence of psychiatric disorders, regardless of the gender of the children. But when broken down by specific illness, gender-related differences became clear:

  • Alcohol abuse: stronger association between alcoholic fathers and their daughters;
  • Mania, nicotine dependence, alcohol abuse and schizoid personality disorder: stronger association between alcoholic mothers and their daughters;
  • Mania: stronger association between alcoholic fathers and their sons;
  • Panic disorder: stronger association between alcoholic mothers and their sons.

In addition, researchers found that in general, there was a higher prevalence of any mood or anxiety disorder such as major depression among females, while conduct disorders, pathological gambling, substance abuse and personality disorders were more common among males.

Corresponding author Peter T. Morgan, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, explained why these associations may exist. "There are many possible contributing factors to these findings, and given the different interactions we observed, a single explanation is unlikely. However, the greater impact of maternal alcoholism on the various psychological problems in female offspring may be related in part to the relative absence of a stable female role model when growing up. Supporting this idea is our finding that female offspring of alcoholic mothers showed a pattern of increased odds for the type of disorders that are typically more prevalent in men."

Researchers hope this study may influence efforts to care for children of alcoholics. Morgan said, "It's been clear for a long time that children of alcoholics are at greatly increased risk for psychiatric disorders. Being able to describe who is most at risk for what disorder and under what circumstances may guide efforts at efficient prevention, recognition, and treatment."

Other authors are Rani A. Desai and Marc N. Potenza of the Department of Psychiatry and Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine.

This study was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Center for Responsible Gaming and its affiliated Institute for Research on Gambling Disorders, the Veterans Integrated Service Network 1 Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center, Women's Health Research at Yale, the State of Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and the Yale Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) grant from the National Center for Research Resources at the National Institutes of Health.