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The Prevalence of Major Anxiety Disorders in Relatives of Alcohol Dependent Men and Women

Marc A. Schuckit, Victor M. Hesselbrock, Jayson Tipp, John I. Nurnberger, Jr., Robert M. Anthenelli, Raymond R. Crowe

Objective: The relationship between alcohol dependence and lifelong major anxiety disorders is complex. The literature indicates a close association between anxiety symptoms and drinking behavior. However, it is difficult to determine whether the anxiety conditions are lifelong disorders or if they represent temporary organic conditions related to alcohol intoxication and withdrawal. One approach to understanding more about the relationships between alcohol dependence and major anxiety disorders is to observe the rate of anxiety-related diagnoses in close relatives of alcoholics. This approach evaluates whether alcoholism and major anxiety disorders might share a common genetic basis. Method: The data presented here describe the rates of four major anxiety disorders in 591 interviewed first-degree relatives of alcohol dependent men and women. The data were gathered through face-to-face structured standardized interviews. Results: The analyses reveal that after focusing on DSM-III-R anxiety disorders, controlling for the potential presence of temporary organic conditions in the subject and considering the impact of assortative mating in their parents, the lifetime risk for panic disorder in close biological family members of alcoholics is 3.4%; for agoraphobia, 1.4%; for social phobia, 2.3%; and for obsessive-compulsive disease, 1.4%. Conclusions: These data do not indicate an exceptionally high rate of anxiety disorders among close relatives of alcoholics. While other mechanisms might contribute to relationship between alcoholism and major anxiety disorders, the results do not support evidence of a common genotype for the two disorders. (J. Stud. Alcohol 56: 309-317, 1995)