Regular drinking by age 14 years is a significant risk factor for alcoholism, and genetically informative data suggest that whether a young adolescent abstains or drinks is largely attributable to familial (or other shared) environmental factors.
Three consecutive birth cohorts of Finnish twins, enrolled into a longitudinal study at age 11 to 12 years, completed a follow-up questionnaire within 3 months of their 14th birthdays. The sample included 1380 twin sisters and 1330 twin brothers at age 14, and at that age, 35.4% reported using alcohol. Genetic analyses (model-fitting of twin pair data) and epidemiological analyses (logistical regressions of data from individual twins) were conducted to examine predictive factors of drinking versus abstinence at age 14.
Polychoric correlations were substantial across all same-sex twin pairs but were lower for brother-sister twins, suggesting significant influences of common environments, with some sex-specific effects. Common environmental effects were equivalent in male and female adolescents and accounted for 76% of the total variation in abstinence/drinking. Logistical regression analyses among 2206 individual twins with complete data on risk-relevant measures at both baseline and follow-up identified significant predictors of drinking or abstaining at age 14, including female sex, twin sibling of the opposite sex, accelerated pubertal development, and the twins' assessments, made at age 12, of reduced parental monitoring and a less supportive home atmosphere; drinking at age 14 was also predicted by behaviors rated by the twins' classroom teachers 2 years earlier, increasing with rated behavioral problems but decreasing with rated emotional problems.
Our results show that environmental factors shared by twin siblings account for most of the variance in abstaining or drinking at age 14. We identify predictors of drinking in the adolescent twins' home environments and in their dispositional behaviors, sibling interactions, and pubertal timing.
Examples of gene-environment interaction in human behavioral data are relatively rare; those that exist have used simple, dichotomous measures of the environment. The authors describe a model that allows for the specification of more continuous, more realistic variations in environments as moderators of genetic and environmental influences on behavior. Using data from a population-based Finnish twin study, the authors document strong moderating effects of socioregional environments on genetic and environmental influences on adolescent alcohol use, with nearly a five-fold difference in the magnitude of genetic effects between environmental extremes. The incorporation of specific environmental measures into genetically informative designs should prove to be a powerful method for better understanding the nature of gene-environment interaction and its contribution to the etiology of behavioral variation.
Cognitive deficits in alcohol dependence (AD) have been observed, poorer verbal ability being among the most consistent findings. Genetic factors influence both cognitive ability and AD, but whether these influences overlap is not known.
A subset of 602 monozygotic (MZ) and dizygotic (DZ) twins from FinnTwin16, a population-based study of Finnish twins, was used to study the associations of verbal ability with DSM-III-R diagnosis and symptoms of AD, the maximum number of drinks consumed in a 24-h period, and the Rutgers Alcohol Problem Index (RAPI) scores. These twins, most of them selected for within-pair discordance or concordance for their RAPI scores at age 18.5 years, were studied with neuropsychological tests and interviewed with the Semi-Structured Assessment for the Genetics of Alcoholism (SSAGA) in young adulthood (mean age 26.2 years, range 23-30 years).
All alcohol problem measures were associated with lower scores on the Vocabulary subtest of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale - Revised (WAIS-R), a measure of verbal ability. In bivariate genetic models, Vocabulary and the alcohol problem measures had moderate heritabilities (0.54-0.72), and their covariation could be explained by correlated genetic influences (genetic correlations -0.20 to -0.31).
Poorer verbal ability and AD have partly overlapping biological etiology. The genetic and environmental influences on the development of cognitive abilities, alcohol problems and risk factors for AD should be studied further with prospective longitudinal designs.
In the present study, between-family analyses of data from adolescent twin girls offer new evidence that early menarche is associated with earlier initiation and greater frequency of smoking and drinking. The role of personality factors and peer relationships in that association was investigated, and little support was found for their involvement. Novel within-family analyses replicating associations of substance use with pubertal timing in contrasts of twin sisters selected for extreme discordance for age at menarche are reported. Within-family replications demonstrated that the association of pubertal timing with substance use cannot be explained solely by between-family confounds. Within-family analyses demonstrated contextual modulation of the influence of pubertal timing: Its impact on drinking frequency is apparent only among girls in urban settings. Sibling comparisons illustrate a promising analytic tool for studying diverse developmental outcomes.