Women Influenced Differently by Alcoholic Parent

Some Risk Factors Same for Both Genders

Stressed Woman
Family Alcoholism Affects Daughters More. © Getty Images

There are differences in how the risk of parental alcoholism is transmitted to daughters than it is from parent to son, and women are affected to a greater degree by parental alcoholism history, according to Research Society on Alcoholism scientists.

Daughters of alcoholics are affected by a parent's alcoholism in many of the same ways that men are; both are at higher risk for developing alcohol abuse disorders compared to children of non-alcoholic parents.

But there are some differences in how women are influenced, scientists say.

"Clearly, there are some common antecedents, such as conduct disorder or symptoms, but there are also predictors unique to each gender," Aruna Gogineni, assistant professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said. "There are possible differences in how alcoholic parental risk is transmitted from parent to daughter versus parent to son as well as, for example, a greater effect of parental alcoholism history on women than men. These are the kinds of findings that call out for many more studies on women in order to determine how the mechanisms of alcoholic parental risk may differ in men and women."

According to Research Society on Alcoholism these are some of the key ways that daughters are affected by parental alcoholism:

Certain Predictors Appear to Be Shared by Men and Women

A history of externalizing symptoms (such as conduct disorder and oppositional defiant disorder) and looking older as an adolescent affect both genders of children of alcoholics.

Affiliation with a religion that forbids alcohol appears to serve as a protective factor for both genders. Conversely, severe physical punishment was a predictor of several outcomes for women, but not for men.

"It is possible that severe physical punishment may include some instances of sexual abuse of women," said Gogineni.

"It is possible that the punishment itself is not responsible for the increased substance use, rather, the punishment may be a 'marker' of very dysfunctional families, and it may be other characteristics of these families that actually increase the risk of later substance involvement."

Male and Female Adolescents Exhibit Different Levels of Behavioral Disinhibition

The underlying genetic and environmental transmission of risk for behavioral disinhibition may be different for the genders during this time; and as adolescents transition to later adolescence and young adulthood, these gender differences may become more pronounced.

"Findings suggest that boys tend to have higher levels of acting-out behaviors – like bad peer affiliations, delinquent behaviors, etc. – than girls," said Gogineni. "However, the underlying influences on parental transmission of alcoholism may be different for some behaviors. Adoption research results suggest that genetic factors are relatively more influential in the relationship between parental alcoholism and offsprings' acting-out problems than environmental factors.

"But for some behaviors, there seems to be a somewhat stronger effect of alcoholic parental environment for girls relative to boys."

In General, Behavioral Undercontrol Appears to Be the Strongest Mediator of Family History of Alcoholism for Both Genders

However, both negative affectivity and, in particular, childhood stressors, may be stronger correlates of alcohol use disorders among women.

"The risk of developing alcohol-use disorders is particularly high among young adults with a history of behavior characterized by rule breaking and disregard for authority," said Gogineni. "For women, there is additional risk conferred by a personality that is neurotic, anxious, and avoidant of harm, as well as a history of psychological, physical, or sexual abuse prior to age 18.

These women may be using alcohol to 'self-medicate' their distress."

Daughters With a Positive History of Parental Alcoholism Appear to Have an Increased Risk of Lifetime Symptoms of Alcohol Dependence and Alcohol-Related Negative Consequences

Compared to daughters without a positive family history of alcoholism, daughters of alcoholics risk more negative consequences. However, no differences in daughters' alcohol involvement were observed with respect to maternal versus paternal alcoholism, the researchers noted.

"The data suggest that despite lower rates of alcohol use disorders among women, a history of alcoholism in the father connotes greater risk for the development of an alcohol use disorder among daughters of alcoholics than among sons of alcoholics," said Gogineni. "This risk was explored from ages 18 through to 28, and it was found that the stronger risk for women was present throughout this period."


Gogineni, A, et al. "Female Offspring of Alcoholic Individuals: Recent Findings on Alcoholism and Psychopathology Risks: Symposium Presented at the Research Society on Alcoholism, 2004, Vancouver Aruna Gogineni, Chair." Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research February 2006

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