Alcoholic Stepfather Increases Problems for Girls

Having an alcoholic stepfather increases risk of behavior problems in girls more than boys.


Living with an alcoholic stepfather is associated with a significantly higher risk of behavior problems in girls than boys, according to a new study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The assessment of 1,580 twin youths from intact families and 166 youths from stepfather families showed that the risk for behavior problems was higher among girls who lived with an alcoholic stepfather than girls who lived with their alcoholic biological father.


The study, which is published in the May issue of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, showed that boys who lived with alcoholic stepfathers had fewer conduct disorder problems than boys who lived with their alcoholic biological fathers.

“The high prevalence of divorce in American society has focused considerable attention on how divorce impacts on children,” says Debra L. Foley.


“Studies have shown that children of divorced parents have more psychiatric problems, especially conduct problems and particularly in stepfamilies as opposed to single-parent families. Our study indicates that alcoholism in a stepparent explains part of the increase in behavioral problems in girls whose parents are divorced.”

The VCU researchers interviewed twins, aged 8-17, to assess whether they suffered from symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, major depression, separation anxiety or other psychiatric problems.


Parents and stepfathers were interviewed about their lifetime history of alcoholism, antisocial behavior, anxiety, depression, panic disorder and social phobia.

The study found that mothers in stepfamilies suffered more

  • alcoholism,
  • antisocial behavior,
  • major depression and
  • social phobia
  • than mothers in intact families.

Stepfathers had a higher incidence of

  • alcoholism and
  • major depression

than biological fathers in intact families.


In addition: Girls and boys in stepfamilies had more behavior problems and other psychiatric symptoms than girls and boys in intact families.


Boys in intact families had significantly more

  • conduct disorder and
  • attention-deficit problems

than girls in intact families but fewer symptoms of depression.


Mother and father alcoholism as well as living in a stepfamily all were associated with a higher risk of conduct disorder in children.


Girls who lived with an alcoholic stepfather had significantly more conduct disorder symptoms than girls who lived with an alcoholic biological father.


“Our findings suggest that alcoholism in a stepfather may explain a significant portion of the increased risk for conduct disorder symptoms in girls in stepfamilies, perhaps as a result of the disrupted and stressful family environment often associated with parental alcoholism,” Foley said.


“The increased risk of behavior problems in boys living with an alcoholic father as opposed to an alcoholic stepfather is consistent with a genetic link between alcoholism and conduct disorder in boys.”

From a story of the Virginia Commonwealth University.




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