Further Reading

What do you think about these swedish genetic findings?

Hello Stanton!

I'm a lecturer at the dept of Social work, Mid Sweden University, and I've read some of your work with great interest. I guess you're familiar with "The Stockholm adoption study" (Cloninger/Bohman/Sigvardsson/von Knorring, 1985). Have you written anything about this report or anything like it?

Magnus Ottelid

Dear Magnus:

I have written about this and genetic topics extensively. (Have you really examined my site? Please see the Genetic Models section of my on-line library). Please keep the following in mind:

  1. The story of adopted-away children, rather than supporting the idea of inherited alcoholism, actually speaks to science as the handmaiden of prejudice. A number of different research teams, using collapsing definitions that vary from study to study, manage to claim significant heritability in alcoholism. These definitions shift from alcoholism to alcohol abuse and require a number of different assumptions in order to come up with positive findings. The most gerrymandered of all category definitions occurred in the granddaddy of these studies, by Goodwin et al. (1973).  Goodwin defined alcoholism very peculiarly, including regular drinking with only occasional heavy drinking.  Yet Goodwin et al. found a separate category of non-alcoholic problem drinking was more common in the index or comparison group (that is, adoptees without biologic alcohol parents) than the biological heritage group.  Rutgers biological researcher David Lester wrote a devastating critique of this literature with special reference to a number of highly irregular findings reported by Goodwin et al. (available in "Theories of Alcoholism," by Chaudron and Wilkinson, Toronto: Addiction Research Foundation, 1988).  In addition, the Goodwin study claiming genetic heritage in adopted-away children concerned male offspring.  The same Goodwin team (Goodwin et al., 1977) found more separated female offspring without alcoholic parentage became alcoholic than did those with such parentage!
  2. The standard approach to determining heritability is a ratio involving the difference in concurrence between identical and same-sex fraternal twins. Heritability for alcoholism calculated in this way varies from minus figures (Gurling et al., 1984) to .98 heritability (Kaij, 1960). (Minus figures occur when the concurrence for alcoholism is greater for fraternal than identical twins. Of course, behavior geneticists report the statistic merely as 0, denying the integrity of their own formula.) In 1992, two American research teams (McGue et al., 1992 and Kendler et al., 1992) reported heritability for alcohol abuse in women according to DSM-III-R. McGue et al. found negative heritability and reported a figure of .00, while Kendler et al. reported .56 heritability! (The difference in these two figures with thousands of twin pairs involves the shift of only a few cases between twin concordance/discordance.)
  3. One remarkable unreported development in this area was a meta-analysis conducted as a part of the Collaborative Alcohol-Related Longitudinal Project sponsored jointly by the NIAAA and WHO. As one part of this international effort to combine data bases from a number of research projects, Kaye Fillmore of the University of California in San Francisco compared the significance of social variables in adoptive families in adopted-away alcoholism studies. Fillmore et al. (1991) found that such variables in the adopted-into families were more important for determining alcoholism outcomes than was biological inheritance. This finding began a process that has extended almost a decade, as Swedish researcher Soren Sigvardsson has refused to permit until the present the publication of these data, despite repeated efforts at mediation!Kenneth Blum
  4. Finally, no tale about the doctoring of the inheritance of alcoholism is complete without Kenneth Blum (a University of Texas Health Center pharmacologist who sells an amino acid and vitamin mixture as a treatment for both drug addiction and obesity). Blum and his colleague, former NIAAA director Ernest Noble, found a gene allele (variant) in 70% of a group of alcoholics (unknown cadavers with alcoholic diagnoses) and only 20% of ordinary subjects (Blum et al., 1990). The finding was featured on network TV news reports and the front pages of American newspapers. No such coverage was given when, writing in JAMA, Joel Gelernter and Neil Risch, of Yale genetic researchers, and David Goldman, of the NIAAA's Laboratory of Neurogenetics summarized every research study published within three years of the Blum announcement. "When we exclude the data of both studies by Blum et al., the frequency of the Al allele at DRD2 is 18 percent in alcoholics, 18 percent in controls (random population and nonalcoholic), and 18 percent in severe alcoholics...." (Gelernter et al., 1993).

Undaunted, Blum is now marketing a test for the allele to predict alcoholism in children! (Incidentally, you can find Blum's threat to sue me in my review of his goofy book, "Alcohol and the Addictive Brain," at the Genetic Model section of my library.)

Maintain the flame! Stanton


K. Blum, E. Noble, et al., Allelic association of human dopamine D2 receptor gene in alcoholism, JAMA, 263:2055-2060, 1990.

K.M. Fillmore, E. Hartka, B.M. Johnstone, et al., Selective placement effects and the relationships between alcohol problems of biological parents and their adopted-out offspring in adoptee research designs: Alternative analyses and dialogue between investigators (produced by the Collaborative Alcohol-Related Longitudinal Project), Institute of Health and Aging, University of California, San Francisco, September 1991.

J. Gelernter, D. Goldman, and N. Risch, The A1 Allele at the D2 dopamine receptor gene and alcoholism, JAMA, 269:1676, 1993.

D.W. Goodwin, F. Schulsinger, L. Hermansen, et al. Alcohol problems in adoptees raised apart from alcoholic biological parents. Archives of General Psychiatry, 28:238-243, 1973.

D.W. Goodwin, F. Schulsinger, J. Knop, et al. Alcoholism and depression in adopted-out daughters of alcoholics. Archives of General Psychiatry, 34:751-755, 1977.

H.M.D. Gurling, B.E. Oppenheim, and R.M. Murray, Depression, criminality and psychopathology associated with alcoholism: Evidence from a twin study, Acta Geneticae Medicae et Gemellologiae, 33:333-339, 1984.

L. Kaij, Alcoholism in Twins, Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell, 1960.

K.S. Kendler, A.C. Heath, M.C. Neale, R.C. Kessler, and L.J. Eaves, A population-based twin study of alcoholism in women, JAMA, 268:1877-1882, 1992.

D. Lester, Genetic theory: An assessment of the heritability of alcoholism, in C.D. Chaudron and D.A. Wilkinson, Theories of Alcoholism, Toronto: Addiction Research Foundation (pp. 1-28), 1988.

M. McGue, R.W. Pickens, & D.S. Svikis, Sex and age effects on the inheritance of alcohol problems: A twin study, J Abnormal Psychology, 101:3-17, 1992.