Background: Previous research has reported a significant genetic correlation between heaviness of alcohol consumption and alcohol dependence (AD), but this association might be driven by the influence of AD on consumption rather than the reverse. We test the genetic overlap between AD symptoms and a heaviness of consumption measure among individuals who do not have AD. A high genetic correlation between these measures would suggest that a continuous measure of consumption may have a useful role in the discovery of genes contributing to dependence risk. Methods: Factor analysis of five alcohol use measures was used to create a measure of heaviness of alcohol consumption. Quantitative genetic analyses of interview data from the 1989 Australian Twin Panel (n=6257 individuals;M=29.9 years) assessed the genetic overlap between heaviness of consumption, DSM-IV AD symptoms, DSM-IV AD symptom clustering, and DSM-IV alcohol abuse. Results: Genetic influences accounted for 30%-51% of the variance in the alcohol measures and genetic correlations were .90 or higher for all measures, with the correlation between consumption and dependence symptoms among nondependent individuals estimated at .97 (95% confidence interval: .80-1.00). Conclusions: Heaviness of consumption and AD symptoms have a high degree of genetic overlap even among nondependent individuals in the general population, implying that genetic influences on dependence risk in the general population are acting to a considerable degree through heaviness of use and that quantitative measures of consumption will likely have a useful role in the identification of genes contributing to AD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)795-800
Number of pages6
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 15 2009


  • Alcohol dependence
  • Gene identification
  • Genetic overlap
  • Heaviness of consumption
  • Heritability
  • Twins


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