RTI uses cookies to offer you the best experience online. By clicking “accept” on this website, you opt in and you agree to the use of cookies. If you would like to know more about how RTI uses cookies and how to manage them please view our Privacy Policy here. You can “opt out” or change your mind by visiting: http://optout.aboutads.info/. Click “accept” to agree.


Social Environment Factors Can Exacerbate Effects of Family History of Drinking Problems, Study Shows

Policymakers should consider benefits of decreasing alcohol availability for people from high-risk families, researchers say


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — A new study from RTI International and collaborators across the country shows that social factors, and particularly the availability of alcohol in liquor and convenience stores, appear to exacerbate effects of a family history of alcohol problems on high-risk drinking and alcohol dependence. The study by RTI, a nonprofit research institute, analyzed data for more than 12,600 adult drinkers from three U.S. National Alcohol Surveys from 2000 to 2010.


Among women who drink alcohol, a family history of alcohol problems combined with greater density of neighborhood stores selling alcohol was a significant driver of high-risking drinking, or drinking more than recommended by national guidelines, according to the study. The same did not hold for men who drink or for Black drinkers, for whom the combination of family and neighborhood risk factors was linked instead to the more serious issue of alcohol dependence.

“Our research suggests when communities make policies about where people can buy take-away alcohol, policymakers should consider the possible health benefits of decreasing alcohol availability, as these benefits may be especially great for people with a family history of alcohol problems,” said Katherine Karriker-Jaffe , Ph.D., an alcohol and drug researcher at RTI who led the study. “When clinicians talk to patients about drinking, they should consider not only family history but also environmental factors that may exacerbate the familial risk of developing heavy drinking or an alcohol use disorder.”

For white adults, living in areas with greater religious opposition to drinking reduced the effects of a family history of alcohol problems. Personal religious beliefs against drinking also were related to less high-risk drinking for all adult drinkers in the study, but there was not the same protection against alcohol dependence.

Family history of alcohol problems was assessed by asking respondents whether any of their blood relatives have ever been a “problem drinker or alcoholic,” with affirmative responses followed by a checklist of relatives.

“About half of the study participants had at least one relative who had an alcohol problem. With so many people knowing they have a family history, clinicians should take the time to discuss the implications of high-risk family histories and strategies for people to reduce their chances of developing alcohol problems of their own,” said co-author Karen Chartier, Ph.D., of Virginia Commonwealth University.

The study was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, both part of the National Institutes of Health.