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A Prospective Follow-up Study of Alcoholic Violent Offenders and Fire Setters

Matti Virkkunen, MD; Monika Eggert, MD; Robert Rawlings, MS; Markku Linnoila, MD, PhD
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1996;53(6):523-529. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1996.01830060067009.
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Background:  This study investigated biochemical and family variables and predictors of recidivism among forensic psychiatric patients who had committed violent offenses or set fires.

Methods:  One hundred fourteen male alcoholic violent offenders and fire setters were followed up for an average of 4.5 years after release from prison. At the beginning of their incarceration, the first half of the offenders were administered clinical diagnostic interviews, whereas the latter half received the Structured Clinical Interview for DSMIII (SCID) that was blind rated. A structured family history questionnaire was administered to all available firstdegree relatives of offenders. The offenders also received lumbar punctures for monoamine metabolites, an oral glucose tolerance test, and a measurement of fasting plasma cholesterol level. At the end of the follow-up, the Finnish criminal registry was searched for recidivist crimes.

Results:  Among all offenders, low cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA) and homovanillic acid (HVA) concentrations were associated with a family history positive for paternal alcoholism with violence. Low plasma cholesterol concentration was associated with a family history positive for paternal alcoholism without violence. The recidivists, who committed violent offenses or set fires during the follow-up period, had low CSF 5-HIAA and 3-methoxy-4-hydroxyphenylglycol (MHPG) concentrations compared with those in nonrecidivists. Early family environments of the recidivists, compared with those of the nonrecidivists, were characterized by common paternal absence from and presence of brothers at home.

Conclusion:  Among male alcoholic violent offenders and fire setters, low CSF 5-HIAA and HVA concentrations are strongly associated with a family history positive for paternal violence and alcoholism, while low fasting plasma cholesterol concentration is associated with a family history positive for paternal alcoholism. Recidivist violent offenders and fire setters are predicted by low CSF 5-HIAA and MHPG concentrations and a developmental history positive for early paternal absence from and presence of brothers in the family of origin.

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