Developing a quantitative measure of alcohol consumption for genomic studies on prospective cohorts

Arpana Agrawal, Julia D. Grant, Andrew Littlefield, Mary Waldron, Michele L. Pergadia, Michael T. Lynskey, Pamela A.F. Madden, Alexandre Todorov, Timothy Trull, Kathleen K. Bucholz, Richard D. Todd, Kenneth Sher, Andrew C. Heath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


Objective: The purpose of this study was to develop a quantitative measure of alcohol consumption for gene-mapping studies. Method: Using a sample of 3,787 young-adult twin women and an independent sample of 489 men and women from a college drinking study, we developed an alcohol-consumption factor score indexed by (1) maximum typical consumption (log-transformed quantity frequency [LQNTFRQ]), (2) maximum drinks in a 24-hours period (LMAXALC), (3) frequency of drinking five or more drinks per day (FIVE), and (4) frequency of drinking to intoxication (INTOX). We tested (1) for factorial and psychometric equivalence across samples and genders; (2) for construct validity and its equivalence, across samples and genders, using measures of tobacco and cannabis use and family history of alcoholism; and (3) to determine the heritability of the alcohol-consumption factor score using a genetic psychometric model. Results: A single-factor model fit well with factor loadings ranging from .60 to .90. With rare exception, we found support for measurement invariance across the two samples and across genders. Measures of nicotine and cannabis use as well as family history of alcoholism were associated, to a similar extent across samples and genders, with the underlying alcohol-consumption factor. Psychometric twin modeling revealed that each of the alcohol-consumption measures (h2 = 34%-47%) and the underlying factor score (h2 = 50%) were heritable, with the remainder of the variance attributable to individual-specific environmental factors. This moderately heritable alcohol-consumption factor also accounted for a majority of the genetic variance in LQNTFRQ, LMAXALC, FIVE, and INTOX. Conclusions: Quantitative measures of alcohol consumption with the favorable attributes of measurement invariance, construct validity, and moderate heritability can greatly enhance future gene-mapping efforts, supplementing information afforded by conventional diagnostic measures of alcohol abuse/dependence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-168
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009


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