Girls and boys in stepfamilies had more behavior problems and other psychiatric symptoms than girls and boys in intact families. Boys in intact families had significantly more conduct disorder and attention-deficit problems than girls in intact families but fewer symptoms of depression. Maternal and paternal alcoholism as well as living in a stepfamily all were associated with a higher risk of conduct disorder in children. Girls who lived with an alcoholic stepfather had significantly more conduct disorder symptoms than girls who lived with an alcoholic biological father. The converse was true for boys.

"Our findings suggest that alcoholism in a stepfather may explain a significant portion of the increased risk for conduct disorder symptoms in girls in stepfamilies, perhaps as a result of the disrupted and stressful family environment often associated with parental alcoholism," Foley said. "The increased risk of behavior problems in boys living with an alcoholic father as opposed to an alcoholic stepfather is consistent with a genetic link between alcoholism and conduct disorder in boys." The study was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the Carman Trust for Scientific Research.

A copy of Dr. Foley's study is available via e-mail in PDF format or by fax. For information, please call VCU News Services at (804) 828-1231.

The Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics is a multi-disciplined, integrated research program of VCU's Departments of Psychiatry and Human Genetics, focused on identifying genes and environments that cause psychiatric diseases and behavioral differences. For more, see www.vipbg.vcu.