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Twin Res. 2001 Apr;4(2):103-18.

An integrative approach for studying the etiology of alcoholism and other addictions.

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  • 1Palo Alto Veterans Administration, Palo Alto, California, USA.


Studies of alcoholism etiology often focus on genetic or psychosocial approaches, but not both. Greater understanding of the etiology of alcohol, tobacco and other addictions will come from integration of these research traditions. A research approach is outlined to test three models for the etiology of addictions--behavioral undercontrol, pharmacologic vulnerability, negative affect regulation--addressing key questions including (i) mediators of genetic effects, (ii) genotype-environment correlation effects, (iii) genotype x environment interaction effects, (iv) the developmental unfolding of genetic and environmental effects, (v) subtyping including identification of distinct trajectories of substance involvement, (vi) identification of individual genes that contribute to risk, and (vii) the consequences of excessive use. By using coordinated research designs, including prospective assessment of adolescent twins and their siblings and parents; of adult substance dependent and control twins and their MZ and DZ cotwins, the spouses of these pairs, and their adolescent offspring; and of regular families; by selecting for gene-mapping approaches sibships screened for extreme concordance or discordance on quantitative indices of substance use; and by using experimental (drug challenge) as well as survey approaches, a number of key questions concerning addiction etiology can be addressed. We discuss complementary strengths and weaknesses of different sampling strategies, as well as methods to implement such an integrated approach illustrated for the study of alcoholism etiology. A coordinated program of twin and family studies will allow a comprehensive dissection of the interplay of genetic and environmental risk-factors in the etiology of alcoholism and other addictions.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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