Family History of Alcohol Use Increases Risk of Depression and Anxiety

Individuals with alcohol dependency (AD) often have comorbid conditions such as posttraumatic stress, anxiety, and depression. Mood issues such as anxiety and depression can increase the risk for AD, and AD can, in turn, increase a person’s vulnerability to mood issues. Family history (FH) of AD is another strong predictor of AD and has been studied at length. However, less is known about FH of AD and mood issues in people without AD.

To determine whether FH of AD increases the risk of mood issues in people without AD, and if it does, how does this FH of AD affect cognitive and emotional processes, Zsuzsika Sjoerds of the Department of Psychiatry at VU University Medical Center in the Netherlands recently led a study exploring these relationships.

For her study, Sjoerds conducted functional magnetic resonance imaging on 31 individuals with mood issues who had a FH of AD and compared them to 77 participants with mood issues and no FH of AD. She then compared the participants with mood issues to another group of 31 participants with no history of AD, FH, or mood problems. Sjoerds said, “In the present study, we investigated the effects of a FH of AD on neural correlates of cognitive functions and emotional perception in patients with mood/anxiety disorders.”

The results of this examination revealed that participants in the FH/AD group had slower performance on the cognitive task than the non-FH and control participants. She also found differences in word encoding and right insula regions of the brain.

The findings suggest that people with mood problems and FH may be susceptible to emotion regulation issues and cognitive impairments even if they do not themselves have AD. Sjoerds believes that perhaps impaired cognitive resources could make people with mood issues and FH more vulnerable to emotional stimuli and impulsivity which could lead to risk taking and ultimately, negative coping strategies such as alcohol use. Although the differences between the sample groups were subtle, Sjoerds believes that these results indicate that FH of AD could be viewed as a predictor for future anxiety or depression problems.

Sjoerds, Z., et al. (2013). Family history of alcohol dependence modulates functional neurophysiology in mood/anxiety disorders. Psychological Medicine 43.7 (2013): 1487-97. ProQuest. Web.

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  • marie g

    marie g

    July 4th, 2013 at 6:01 AM

    I know that family history can be indicative of future problems but it doesn’t have to be. If you educate yourself and work on yourself then you can rise far above perhaps when you have been shown in the past.

  • Ron


    July 5th, 2013 at 6:00 AM

    I was raised, and I use the term lightly, where it was more normal for my parents to be drunk than to not be drunk.
    The point is that I grew up in some ways thinking that this was normal but only with a very heavy heart. I didn’t want it, didn’t want to live that way, but this was all I knew.
    As a result, I saw my parents “coping” with stress via alcohol so I then chose the same path. Intuitively I knew that this was wrong, but I was nveer shown that there was or could be another way.
    I am not trying to use this as an excuse I am just trying to explain to other people who have no real knowledge of what it is like growing up like this what it feels like to be abandoned by your family for their abuse of a substance that you start to feel like you could never compete with.

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