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Pathways to post‐traumatic stress disorder and alcohol dependence: Trauma, executive functioning, and family history of alcoholism in adolescents and young adults

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Family history (FH) of alcohol dependence is likely to increase the risk of trauma exposure, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and alcohol dependence. FH of alcohol dependence and trauma has been separately shown to adversely affect planning/problem-solving aspects of executive function. However, few studies have examined these risk factors in an integrated model.


Using data from trauma-exposed individuals from the Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism prospective cohort (N = 1,860), comprising offspring from alcohol-dependent high-risk and comparison families (mean age [SE] = 21.9 [4.2]), we investigated associations of trauma (nonsexual assaultive, nonassaultive, sexual assaultive) with DSM-IV PTSD and alcohol dependence symptom counts, and planning/problem-solving abilities assessed using the Tower of London Test (TOLT). Moderating effects of family history density of alcohol use disorder (FHD) on these associations and sex differences were explored.


Family history density was positively associated with PTSD in female participants who endorsed a sexual assaultive trauma. Exposure to nonsexual assaultive trauma was associated with more excess moves made on the TOLT.


Findings from this study demonstrate associations with PTSD and alcohol dependence symptom counts, as well as poor problem-solving ability in trauma-exposed individuals from families densely affected with alcohol dependence, depending on trauma type, FHD, and sex. This suggests that having a FH of alcohol dependence and exposure to trauma during adolescence may be associated with more PTSD and alcohol dependence symptoms, and poor problem-solving abilities in adulthood.

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