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Behav Genet. 2011 Jul;41(4):476-87. doi: 10.1007/s10519-010-9400-y. Epub 2010 Oct 2.

Depressive symptoms and alcohol use are genetically and environmentally correlated across adolescence.

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Department of Psychiatry, Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA 23298-0126, USA.


Depressive symptoms and alcohol use are frequently positively associated during adolescence. This study aimed to assess the heritability of each phenotype across adolescence; to assess potential shared liabilities; to examine changes in the nature of shared liabilities across adolescence; and to investigate potential causal relationships between depressive symptoms and alcohol use. We studied a longitudinally assessed sample of adolescent Finnish twins (N = 1,282) to test hypotheses about genetic and environmental influences on these phenotypes within and across ages, using data from assessments at ages 12, 14, and 17.5 years. The heritability of depressive symptoms is consistent across adolescence (~40-50%), with contributions from common and unique environmental factors. The heritability of alcohol use varies across time (a(2) = .25-.44), and age 14 alcohol use is heavily influenced by shared environmental factors. Genetic attenuation and innovation were observed across waves. Modest to moderate genetic (r(A) = .26-.59) and environmental (r(C) = .30-.63) correlations between phenotypes exist at all ages, but decrease over time. Tests for causal relationships between traits differed across ages and sexes. Intrapair MZ difference tests provided evidence for reciprocal causation in girls at ages 14 and 17.5. Formal causal models suggested significant causal relationships between the variables in both boys and girls. The association between depressive symptoms and alcohol use during adolescence is likely due to a combination of shared genetic and environmental influences and causal influences. These influences are also temporally dynamic, complicating efforts to understand factors contributing to the relationship between these outcomes.

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