Personality and Parents' Alcoholism Interact to Influence a Person's Risk of Becoming an Alcoholic

Armen Hareyan's picture

Development of Individual Alcoholism

Personality and parental alcoholism interact to influence an individual's risk of becoming an alcoholic.

  • New findings show that interaction between a personality trait called "novelty seeking" and parental alcoholism can both increase risk of, and protect against, developing individual alcoholism.

  • High novelty seeking is a strong risk factor for alcoholism among children of alcoholics (COAs).

  • Low novelty seeking appears to protect against the risk of developing alcoholism among COAs.


"Disinhibitory personality traits" refer to risk-taking, exploratory, thrill-seeking and sometimes impulsive personality characteristics. Children, especially boys, who exhibit these characteristics have a high likelihood of becoming alcoholics as adults. Recent findings indicate that this risk is further enhanced if these children have an alcoholic parent.

Results are published in the July issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"Novelty seeking is not in and of itself a dangerous thing," said Richard A. Grucza, an epidemiologist at Washington University School of Medicine. "Lance Armstrong is a good example of somebody with high novelty seeking. He was seriously injured in a bike accident in high school. Somebody more risk averse or less enamored of the thrill of speed probably would have focused on running or swimming after that. But obviously, he is someone who has channeled these tendencies in non-destructive ways." Grucza is the study's corresponding author.

"Although familial alcoholism has long been known to increase the risk of alcoholism in offspring, the risk is not 100 percent," added Kevin Conway, associate director of the Division of Clinical Neuroscience and Behavioral Research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "This indicates that family history by itself is only one of many variables in the 'equation' predicting alcoholism. Some variables increase the probability of alcoholism in offspring, such as exposure to heavy drinking, or antisocial behavior in parents or offspring, whereas others decrease this risk, such as warm parent-child relationships and certain forms of the alcohol dehydrogenase gene. This study suggests that an individual's personality influences how he or she responds to familial liability to alcoholism."

Researchers analyzed data gathered as part of the Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism