Testing the Relations Among Family Disorganization, Delay Discounting, and Adolescent Alcohol Use: A Genetically Informed Study

Frances L. Wang, Danielle Pandika, Laurie Chassin, Matthew Lee, Kevin King

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations


Background: Delay discounting is a potential etiological factor in adolescents' alcohol use, making it important to understand its antecedents. Family disorganization might contribute to delay discounting, but few studies have tested this relation. Moreover, because delay discounting is heritable, the effects of family disorganization on delay discounting might be moderated by adolescents' genetic risk for delay discounting. Thus, the current study examined the role of family disorganization, in interaction with genetic risk, in predicting adolescents' delay discounting and subsequent alcohol use. Methods: Adolescents participated in 4 waves of data collection. Adolescents self-reported their family disorganization at T1, completed a delay discounting questionnaire at T3, and self-reported their alcohol use both at T2 (covariate) and T4 (outcome). Using results from an independent sample, we created a polygenic risk score consisting of dopaminergic genes to index genetic risk for delay discounting. Results: Greater family disorganization predicted adolescents' greater delay discounting, but only for adolescents with low levels of genetic risk for delay discounting. Adolescents with high and mean levels of genetic risk for delay discounting showed elevated delay discounting regardless of their family's disorganization. Greater delay discounting prospectively predicted adolescents' greater alcohol use. Finally, the effects of family disorganization on adolescents' alcohol use were mediated through delay discounting, but only for adolescents with low levels of genetic risk. Conclusions: Results suggest multiple pathways to delay discounting. Although there are genetically influenced pathways to delay discounting, family disorganization might represent an environmental pathway to delay discounting (and subsequent alcohol use) for a subset of adolescents at low genetic risk. These findings reinforce the utility of family interventions for reducing adolescents' delay discounting and alcohol use, at least for a subgroup of adolescents. Because higher family organization did not buffer against delay discounting among adolescents with high genetic risk, future research should explore other early environmental influences that could protect these high-risk adolescents from developing these risky behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
StateAccepted/In press - 2016



  • Adolescence
  • Alcohol Use
  • Delay Discounting
  • Family Disorganization
  • Gene-Environment Interaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Toxicology

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