Adopting a developmental epidemiology perspective, the current study examines sources of risk heterogeneity for internalizing symptomatology among children of alcoholic parents (COAs). Parent-based factors, including comorbid diagnoses and the number of alcoholic parents in the family, as well as child-based factors, namely child gender, formed the indicators of heterogeneity. Following a novel approach to cross-study methods, we present a three-stage analysis involving measurement development using item response theory, examination of study effects on latent trajectories over time using latent curve modeling, and prediction of these latent trajectories testing our theoretically derived hypotheses in two longitudinal investigations across both mother- and self-reported symptomatology. Specifically, we replicated previous findings that parent alcoholism has a unique effect on child internalizing symptoms, above and beyond those of both parent depression and antisocial personality disorder. However, we also found important subgroup differences, explaining heterogeneity within COAs' risk profile in terms of the number of alcoholic parents in the family, comorbid diagnoses for the alcoholic parent and, for self-reported symptoms, child gender. Such factors serve to refine the definition of risk among COAs, suggesting a more severely impaired target group for preventive interventions, identifying the significance of familial alcoholism in individual differences underlying internalizing symptoms over time, and further specifying the distal risk matrix for an internalizing pathway to alcohol involvement.
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