Gender plays a determining role in a child developing a psychiatric illness because of an alcoholic parent, states a new study.
This influence appeared strongest in the female parent-female child pairing.
It has previously been established that children of alcohol-dependent (AD) individuals are at a greater risk of developing a psychiatric illness.
The new study has found that the effects of parental AD on a child's psychopathology can be different, depending on both the gender of the AD parent and the gender of their child.
"The problems caused by alcoholism are not limited to the individual who suffers from it," said Peter T. Morgan, of Yale University.
"Children are particularly susceptible to the negative effects of alcoholism in a parent, and adult children of alcoholics are in general at much greater risk for developing every type of psychiatric illness," he said.
"The study by Morgan and his colleagues is noteworthy for several reasons," added Peter E. Nathan, of University of Iowa.
"It examined the interaction of a large number of demographic, social, and psychological/psychiatric variables in a very substantial sample of more than 40,000 men and women.
"Consonant with prior findings, the study confirmed a significant positive relationship between alcoholism in parents and increased risk of alcoholism and other forms of psychopathology in their adult children," he said.
Morgan and his colleagues used data from the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, xamining the gender-specific prevalence of Axis I (clinical disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, social phobia) and Axis II (personality disorders such as paranoia, antisocial and borderline personality) disorders in 40,374 respondents (23,006 males, 17,368 females) with and without a history of paternal or maternal alcoholism.
"The key, new finding of this work is that the effect parental alcoholism has on children is different depending on the gender of the alcoholic parent and the gender of the child," said Morgan.
"An unexpected finding," added Nathan, "was that this parent-child influence appears strongest in the female parent-female child pairing, where it was most influential in yielding heightened risk for mania, nicotine dependence, alcohol abuse, and schizoid personality disorder.
"The same interaction was apparently also responsible for lesser findings of increased risk in male parent-male child, male parent-female child, and female parent-male child pairings," he said.
"First, these findings reiterate how damaging alcoholism can be to the mental health of children who grow up with an alcoholic parent. Second, and particular to this study, these findings indicate that in a family with an alcoholic mother, daughters may be at greater relative risk for developing psychiatric problems," Nathan said.
The findings of the survey were published in Early View.