An alcohol-dependent parent puts an entire family at risk for serious health problems – and not just physical diseases. Researchers have known for a while that children of alcoholics are vulnerable to a wide range of psychiatric illness but now a new study has found that the seriousness of this effect may depend on the gender of the alcoholic parent and child.
Yale psychiatrist Peter Morgan and his colleagues used data from the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions to look at the prevalence of both clinical disorders (depression, schizophrenia, social phobia) and personality disorders (paranoia, antisocial and borderline personality) in 23,006 male and 17,368 females both with and without a history of maternal or paternal alcoholism. They found that daughters of alcoholic mothers appear to be most at risk for problems, particularly mania, alcohol abuse and schizoid personality disorder.
The results, presented in the October 2010 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, point to the importance of getting help for families where parents are struggling with alcoholism since this study (along with many others) makes clear that more than one generation is affected by the disease. For more information, try the National Institute on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse's pamphlets section; several booklets directly address issues related to families. Al-anon and Alateen also offer excellent resources, including meetings where participants share their stories and struggles. (Check the site for a meeting near you.)