Children whose parents are addicted to drugs or alcohol are more likely to be depressed as adults, a new study suggests.
In a study of 6,268 adults, University of Toronto researchers studied the relationship between parental addiction and their children’s depression in adulthood. They found 312 participants had a major depressive episode in the previous year, and 877 said when they were under the age of 18, at least one parent drank or used drugs often enough to cause problems for the family.
After taking into account factors such as childhood maltreatment, parental unemployment and adult smoking and drinking, the researchers found adults exposed to parental addiction had a 69 percent higher risk of depression, compared to their peers with non-addicted parents, Science Daily reports.
The study did not establish what might cause the relationship between a parent’s addiction and adult depression. “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,” co-author Robyn Katz said in a 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.”
Lead researcher Esme Fuller-Thomson said the study reinforces 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. Although more research is needed to determine if access to a responsive and loving adult decreases the likelihood of adult depression among children exposed to parental addictions, we do know that these caring relationships promote healthy development and buffer stress.”
The study is published in Psychiatry Research.