Background: Because alcohol has multiple dose-dependent consequences, it is important to understand the causes of individual variation in the amount of alcohol used. The aims of this study were to assess the long-term repeatability and genetic or environmental causes of variation in alcohol intake and to estimate the degree of overlap with causes of susceptibility to alcohol dependence. Methods: Data were used from three studies conducted between 1980 and 1995 on volunteer adult male and female Australian twin subjects. In each study, alcohol intake was reported both as quantity X frequency and as past-week data. Repeatability was calculated as correlations between occasions and between measures, and the effects of genes and environment were estimated by multivariate model fitting to the twin pair repeated measures of alcohol use. Relationships between mean alcohol use and the lifetime history of DSM-III-R alcohol dependence were tested by bivariate model fitting. Results: Repeatability of the alcohol intake measures was between 0.54 and 0.85, with the highest repeatability between measures within study and the lowest repeatability between the first and last studies. Reported alcohol consumption was mainly affected by genetic factors affecting all times of study and by nonshared environmental factors (including measurement error) unique to each time of study. Genes that affect alcohol intake do affect alcohol dependence, but genetic effects unique to dependence are also significant; environmental effects are largely unique to either intake and dependence. Conclusions: Nearly all the repeatable component of variation in alcohol intake is due to genetic effects. Genes affecting intake also affect dependence risk, but there are other genes that affect dependence alone. Studies aiming to identify genes that affect alcohol use disorders need to test loci and candidate genes against both phenotypes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1153-1160
Number of pages8
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2004


  • Alcohol Dependence
  • Alcohol Intake
  • Genetic Effects
  • Repeatability
  • Twin Study


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