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11-04-2013 | Psychology | Article

Exposure to parental substance abuse poses risk for adolescents


Free abstract

medwireNews: Exposure to a parental substance use disorder (SUD) in adolescence specifically increases the risk for a child developing a SUD themselves, a US study shows.

"More efforts are needed to develop appropriate intervention strategies aimed at diminishing this risk," comment lead researcher Timothy Wilens (Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston) and team in The American Journal on Addictions.

The research, conducted in a sample derived from a longitudinal case-control family study of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), also showed that children exposed to their mother's drug use disorder were 7.4 times more likely to develop a drug use disorder than children whose mothers did not abuse drugs, a statistically significant increase. This association was independent of ADHD status.

A total of 465 children of 441 parents were recruited aged between 6 and 22 years, and were followed up over 5 years. Seventy-one percent were female and 41% had a diagnosis of ADHD, while 32% of the parents had an SUD.

Wilens and colleagues explain that they chose these sample demographics to replicate previous research on the impact of parental SUDs in a sample of male probands with and without ADHD.

Exposure was defined as an active parental SUD while the parent was living with their child, and was quantified based on onset and offset data reported by the parent.

The study found that the children of parents with an SUD were 3.4 times more likely to develop an SUD themselves if they were exposed during their adolescent years (aged 13+ years), compared with exposure in younger children.

However, no association was found for exposure to maternal alcohol abuse, exposure to any paternal SUD, or exposure to a parental (mother or father) SUD.

The authors point out that this contrasts with the previous work in a sample of male probands, in which exposure to a parental SUD was associated with an increased risk for SUD in the child.

"These subtle differences between the female and male proband studies may be related to the different compositions of the samples or the possibility of a cohort effect," they suggest.

They go on to say that the specific effect of exposure to maternal drug abuse "may be related to impaired parenting due to SUD and/or the nature of the relationship between females and their mothers."

Parental education about the effect their SUD can have on their children, particularly during adolescence, is critical, the authors conclude.

medwireNews ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2013

By Afsaneh Gray, medwireNews Reporter

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