ABSTRACT Central nervous system (CNS) hyperexcitability and a resulting state of behavioral undercontrol are thought to underlie the vulnerability to early-onset alcohol dependence (AD). The aim of this study was to explore the differences in the functioning of cortical inhibitory systems, utilizing transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), in subjects at high risk (HR) and low risk (LR) for AD and to examine the relationship between CNS inhibition and behavioral undercontrol. Right-handed HR (n = 15) and LR (n = 15) subjects, matched for age, gender, height, weight and education, were assessed for psychopathology and family history of alcoholism using the Semi-Structured Assessment for the Genetics of Alcoholism and the Family Interview for Genetic Studies. Following single-pulse TMS, an electromyogram recorded from the right opponens pollicis muscle was used to measure the silent periods at different stimulus intensities. HR subjects had significantly shorter contralateral and ipsilateral (iSP) silent periods and a relatively higher prevalence of ‘absent’ iSP. They had significantly higher mean externalizing symptoms scores (ESS) than LR subjects, and there was a significant negative correlation between iSP duration and ESS. These preliminary findings suggest that HR subjects have relative impairments in corticocortical and transcallosal inhibitory mechanisms. The consequent state of CNS hyperexcitability may be etiologically linked to the excess of externalizing behaviors observed in this population, which is thought to be a predisposition to a higher risk of developing early-onset alcoholism.