Adult Children of Substance Abusers More Prone to Depression

Risk rose steeply if a parent had been addicted to alcohol or drugs, study found

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THURSDAY, May 16 (HealthDay News) -- The adult children of parents who were addicted to alcohol or drugs are at increased risk for depression, a new study finds.

Researchers looked at data from nearly 6,300 Canadian adults and found that 312 of them had suffered major depression in the past year. Also, 877 of the adults said that when they were younger than age 18 and still living at home, at least one parent drank or used drugs "so often that it caused problems for the family."

After adjusting for age, sex and race, the University of Toronto researchers found that adults with childhood experiences of parental addiction had a more than two-fold increased risk of depression.

Even after compensating for other factors, "ranging from childhood maltreatment and parental unemployment to adult health behaviors including smoking and alcohol consumption, we found that parental addictions were associated with 69 percent higher odds of depression in adulthood," study lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson, a professor of social work, said in a university news release.

The study, published online recently in the journal Psychiatry Research, did not pinpoint any factors that might explain the association between a parent's addiction and depression in adult children.

"It is possible that the prolonged and inescapable strain of parental addictions may permanently alter the way these children's bodies react to stress throughout their life," study co-author Robyn Katz, a graduate student at the university, said in the news release. "One important avenue for future research is to investigate potential dysfunctions in cortisol production -- the hormone that prepares us for 'fight or flight' -- which may influence the later development of depression."

According to Fuller-Thompson, "these findings underscore the intergenerational consequences of drug and alcohol addiction and reinforce the need to develop interventions that support healthy childhood development."

"As an important first step, children who experience toxic stress at home can be greatly helped by the stable involvement of caring adults, including grandparents, teachers, coaches, neighbors and social workers," she suggested. "We do know that these caring relationships promote healthy development and buffer stress."

The study found an association between parental addiction and depression in children, but it did not prove cause-and-effect.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about depression.

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