Background: The development of alcohol dependence (AD) involves transitions through multiple stages of drinking behaviors and is shaped by both heritable and environmental influences. We attempted to capture this dynamic process by characterizing genetic and environmental contributions to the rate at which women progressed through 3 significant transitions along the pathway to AD: nonuse to initiation, initiation to onset of first alcohol-related problem, and first problem to onset of AD. Methods: The sample consisted of 3,546 female twins from the Missouri Adolescent Female Twin Study. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 29 years. Retrospective reports of alcohol use histories were collected by telephone diagnostic interview and transition times between drinking milestones were coded ordinally. Standard genetic analyses were conducted in Mx to derive a trivariate model that provided estimates of genetic and environmental influences that were common as well as specific to the 3 transition times. Results: Heritable influences were found for rate of progression across all 3 transitions, accounting for 30 to 47% of the variance in transition times. Shared environmental contributions were evident only in rate of progression from nonuse to initiation (i.e., age at first drink). Heritable contributions to the rate of movement through successive drinking milestones were attributable to a common factor, whereas environmental influences were transition-specific. Conclusions: The current study is unique in its use of a genetically informative design to document the rate of movement between drinking milestones in a female sample and to examine genetic contributions to multiple transition times over the course of AD development. Results indicate that an earlier report of heritability for males in rate of progression from regular drinking to AD generalizes to women and to other alcohol stage transitions. Findings also suggest the need to consider stage-specific environmental contributions to alcohol outcomes in developing interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)632-638
Number of pages7
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2008


  • Alcohol Dependence
  • Course
  • Genetics
  • Transition
  • Women


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