How does parental alcohol use disorder affect offspring life?

A study tested whether parental alcohol use disorder (AUD) predicted adult offspring’s likelihood of marriage and marriage to an AUD-affected spouse; whether effects differed as a function of the sex or number of affected parents; and whether they were robust to confounders.

Previous studies related to alcohol use disorder legacy have given mixed results due to small sample sizes, restrictive sampling strategies, and imprecise measurement of parental AUD. A total of 1 171 070 individuals from whom 51.40% were male, born from 1965 to 1975 participated in this research.


There were two outcomes of interest: marriage (up to the end of observations, in 2013) and marriage to an individual with a lifetime history of AUD. For the latter outcome, it was studied marriage before the age of 40. The researchers elected to consider lifetime AUD, rather than AUD prior to or at the time of marriage. Under the rationale that characteristics indicative of AUD risk (on which individuals may select spouses) are likely to be present prior to an AUD-related registration. Only the first marriage was considered for the current analyses.


Covariates included offspring birth year (by year); parental education, operationalized as the highest level of education attained by either parent; parental marriage, operationalized as any of the biological parents ever married; parental divorce, operationalized as any of the biological parents ever divorced; parental criminal behaviour (CB) or drug abuse (DA), as determined from medical and legal prescription registers, and offspring AUD prior to marriage. Individuals with missing information on any of the parental characteristics were excluded.


According to the results, there were age-dependent associations between parental AUD and the likelihood of offspring marriage. At younger ages (prior to approximately 25 years of age), parental history of AUD was associated with a higher likelihood of marriage. However, those who did not marry by this time, this association changed direction such that at later ages (approximately ages 25 and older), parental history of AUD was associated with a lower likelihood of marriage.


Both males and females, having a parent with AUD was associated with a moderate increase (60 and 62%, respectively) in the probability of having an affected spouse compared to those without a such parent. As with the likelihood of marriage analyses, these effects were stronger for those who had two AUD affected parents versus one and held after adjusting for confounders. Specifically, daughters of affected mothers were more likely to have an AUD-affected spouse compared to the daughters of affected fathers.


Overall, in Sweden, parental alcohol use disorder (AUD) is associated with a higher probability of marriage at younger ages, a lower probability of marriage at older ages and a higher likelihood of marriage to an affected spouse compared with no parental AUD.

Source: Parental alcohol use disorder and offspring marital outcomes
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