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J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2004 May;45(4):687-96.

Risks for conduct disorder symptoms associated with parental alcoholism in stepfather families versus intact families from a community sample.

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1
Department of Human Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA 23298, USA. dfoley@hsc.vcu.edu

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

It is not known if the prevalence of parental psychiatric disorders is higher in stepfather than intact families, or if parental alcoholism is differentially associated with risk for conduct disorder (CD) symptoms in stepfather families versus intact families.

METHOD:

The sample comprised 839 girls and 741 boys from 792 intact families and 99 girls and 67 boys from 83 stepfather families from a population-based registry of twins aged between 8 and 17 years. Children's current psychiatric symptoms were assessed at personal interview with the child, mother and father. Parental histories of psychiatric disorder were assessed at personal interview with each residential parent. Associations between CD symptoms and parental alcoholism were characterized using both linear and Poisson regression, and results are presented with and without adjustment for maternal drug use during pregnancy, parental conflict, and estimated socioeconomic status (SES) based on census tract data.

RESULTS:

Mothers from stepfather families had a higher lifetime prevalence of alcoholism, antisocial personality disorder, depression and social phobia than mothers from intact families. Stepfathers had a higher lifetime prevalence of alcoholism and depression than biological fathers from intact families. Children from stepfather families had more externalizing (CD/ODD) symptoms than children from intact families. Girls who lived with an alcoholic stepfather had significantly more CD symptoms than girls who lived with an alcoholic biological father. Boys who lived with an alcoholic stepfather had significantly fewer CD symptoms than boys who lived with an alcoholic biological father. This sex difference was statistically significant. Adjustment for maternal drug use during pregnancy, parental conflict, and estimated SES based on census tract data did not change these findings.

CONCLUSIONS:

Children living in stepfather families are exposed to more parental psychiatric risk factors than children from intact families. The increased risk for CD symptoms in girls (but not boys) from stepfather families is partly mediated by or associated with the stepfather's history of alcoholism.

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