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Extended Twin Study of Alcohol Use in Virginia and Australia

  • Brad Verhulst (a1), Michael C. Neale (a2), Lindon J. Eaves (a2), Sarah E. Medland (a3), Andrew C. Heath (a4), Nicholas G. Martin (a3) and Hermine H. Maes (a2)...

Abstract

Drinking alcohol is a normal behavior in many societies, and prior studies have demonstrated it has both genetic and environmental sources of variation. Using two very large samples of twins and their first-degree relatives (Australia ≈ 20,000 individuals from 8,019 families; Virginia ≈ 23,000 from 6,042 families), we examine whether there are differences: (1) in the genetic and environmental factors that influence four interrelated drinking behaviors (quantity, frequency, age of initiation, and number of drinks in the last week), (2) between the twin-only design and the extended twin design, and (3) the Australian and Virginia samples. We find that while drinking behaviors are interrelated, there are substantial differences in the genetic and environmental architectures across phenotypes. Specifically, drinking quantity, frequency, and number of drinks in the past week have large broad genetic variance components, and smaller but significant environmental variance components, while age of onset is driven exclusively by environmental factors. Further, the twin-only design and the extended twin design come to similar conclusions regarding broad-sense heritability and environmental transmission, but the extended twin models provide a more nuanced perspective. Finally, we find a high level of similarity between the Australian and Virginian samples, especially for the genetic factors. The observed differences, when present, tend to be at the environmental level. Implications for the extended twin model and future directions are discussed.

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Copyright

Corresponding author

address for correspondence: Brad Verhulst, Michigan State University, 316 Physics Road, Rm 110D, East Lansing Mi, 48824 USA. E-mail: bverhuls@msu.edu

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