Genetic and environmental influences on developmental trajectories of adolescent alcohol use

  • Yao ZhengEmail author
  • Mara Brendgen
  • Ginette Dionne
  • Michel Boivin
  • Frank Vitaro
Original Contribution


Adolescent alcohol use demonstrates distinct developmental trajectories with different times of onset, levels, and rates of growth. Twin research on adolescent alcohol use has shown that genetic influences are consistent with a gradual growth of risks, whereas non-shared environmental influences are more consistent with an accumulation of risks over time. The current study investigated the relative contributions of genetic and environmental influences on shaping different developmental trajectories of alcohol use through adolescence. Self-reported past year alcohol use was collected from 877 Canadian twins (47.1% males) at age 13, 14, 15, and 17 years. Growth mixture models were fit to examine different developmental trajectories of alcohol use, and biometric liability threshold models were fit to investigate genetic and environmental influences on the liability of belonging to identified trajectories. Three trajectories were identified: low (15.1%), early onset (8.2%), and normative increasing (76.7%). Memberships in the low and early-onset group were under genetic (27.6% and 34.7%), shared (42.4% and 21.5%), and non-shared environment influences (30.0% and 43.8%). Membership in the normative increasing group was under genetic (37.7%) and non-shared environment influences (62.3%). Non-shared environmental influences were significantly larger for the normative increasing trajectory than for the low trajectory. These findings provide a more refined picture of genetic and environmental influences in the development of alcohol use in subgroups of adolescents. Genetic and environmental influences both matter, but to different degrees in different trajectories. Future research should identify specific shared and non-shared environmental experiences that distinguish different trajectories.


Adolescence Alcohol use Developmental trajectory Genetic influences Twin design 



This research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (MOP 123342), the Fonds de Recherche du Québec (Société et Culture; 2014-JU-172894), and the Québec Ministry of Health and Social Services. We thank the twins and their families for participating in this study.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This work was approved by the appropriate ethics committee. The authors assert that all procedures contributing to this work comply with the ethical standards of the relevant national and institutional committees on human experimentation and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2008. All participants and their parents gave their informed consent prior to their inclusion in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversité du Québec à MontréalMontréalCanada
  3. 3.Research Unit for Children’s Psychosocial MaladjustmentMontréalCanada
  4. 4.Department of PsychologyLaval UniversityQuébecCanada
  5. 5.School of Psycho-EducationUniversité de MontréalMontréalCanada

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