Genetic and Environmental Sources of Covariation Between Early Drinking and Adult Functioning

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The vast majority of individuals initiate alcohol consumption for the first time in adolescence. Given the widespread nature of its use and evidence that adolescents may be especially vulnerable to its effects, there is concern about the long-term detrimental impact of adolescent drinking on adult functioning. While some researchers have suggested that genetic processes may confound the relationship, the mechanisms linking drinking and later adjustment remain unclear. The current study utilized a genetically informed sample and biometric modeling to examine the nature of the familial influences on this association and identify the potential for genetic confounding. The sample was drawn from the Minnesota Twin Family Study (MTFS), a longitudinal study consisting of 2,764 twins assessed in 2 cohorts at regular follow-ups from age 17 to age 29 (older cohort) or age 11 to age 29 (younger cohort). A broad range of adult measures was included assessing substance use, antisocial behavior, personality, socioeconomic status, and social functioning. A bivariate Cholesky decomposition was used to examine the common genetic and environmental influences on adolescent drinking and each of the measures of adult adjustment. The results revealed that genetic factors and nonshared environmental influences were generally most important in explaining the relationship between adolescent drinking and later functioning. While the presence of nonshared environmental influences on the association are not inconsistent with a causal impact of adolescent drinking, the findings suggest that many of the adjustment issues associated with adolescent alcohol consumption are best understood as genetically influenced vulnerabilities.

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