Aim To examine the genetic and environmental influences of parental alcoholism on offspring disinhibited behavior. Design We compared the effect of parental alcoholism history on offspring in adoptive and non-adoptive families. In families with a history of parental alcohol dependence, we examined the effect of exposure to parental alcoholism symptoms during the life-time of the adolescent. Setting Assessments occurred at the University of Minnesota from 1998 to 2004. Participants Adolescents adopted in infancy were ascertained systematically from records of three private Minnesota adoption agencies; non-adopted adolescents were ascertained from Minnesota birth records. Adolescents and their rearing parents participated in in-person assessments. Measurements For adolescents, measures included self- reports of delinquency, deviant peers, substance use, antisocial attitudes and personality. For parents, we conducted DSM-IV clinical assessments of alcohol abuse and dependence. Findings A history of parental alcohol dependence was associated with higher levels of disinhibition only when adolescents were related biologically to their rearing parents. Within families with a history of parental alcoholism, exposure to parental alcohol misuse during the life-time of the adolescent was associated with increased odds of using alcohol in adopted adolescents only. Conclusions These findings suggest that the association between a history of parental alcohol dependence and adolescent offspring behavioral disinhibition is attributable largely to genetic rather than environmental transmission. We also obtained some evidence for parental alcohol misuse as a shared environmental risk factor in adoptive families.