Psychiatric diseases versus behavioral disorders and degree of genetic influence

O. J. Bienvenu, D. S. Davydow, K. S. Kendler

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

129 Scopus citations


Background Psychiatric conditions in which symptoms arise involuntarily (diseases) might be assumed to be more heritable than those in which choices are essential (behavioral disorders). We sought to determine whether psychiatric diseases (Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, and mood and anxiety disorders) are more heritable than behavioral disorders (substance use disorders and anorexia nervosa).Method We reviewed the literature for recent quantitative summaries of heritabilities. When these were unavailable, we calculated weighted mean heritabilities from twin studies meeting modern methological standards.Results Heritability summary estimates were as follows: bipolar disorder (85%), schizophrenia (81%), Alzheimer's disease (75%), cocaine use disorder (72%), anorexia nervosa (60%), alcohol dependence (56%), sedative use disorder (51%), cannabis use disorder (48%), panic disorder (43%), stimulant use disorder (40%), major depressive disorder (37%), and generalized anxiety disorder (28%).Conclusions No systematic relationship exists between the disease-like character of a psychiatric disorder and its heritability; many behavioral disorders seem to be more heritable than conditions commonly construed as diseases. These results suggest an error in common-sense assumptions about the etiology of psychiatric disorders. That is, among psychiatric disorders, there is no close relationship between the strength of genetic influences and the etiologic importance of volitional processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-40
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2011


  • Behavior
  • disease
  • genetic epidemiology
  • genetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


Dive into the research topics of 'Psychiatric diseases versus behavioral disorders and degree of genetic influence'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this