Media Releases

Parental addictions linked to adult children’s depression

May 9, 2013

Depression in adulthood is linked to parental addictions during childhood, according to a new study by University of Toronto researchers.

TORONTO, ON – The off­spring of par­ents who were addict­ed to drugs or alco­hol are more like­ly to be depressed in adult­hood, accord­ing to a new study by Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to researchers.

In a paper pub­lished online in the jour­nal Psy­chi­a­try Research this month, inves­ti­ga­tors exam­ined the asso­ci­a­tion between parental addic­tions and adult depres­sion in a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of 6,268 adults, drawn from the 2005 Cana­di­an Com­mu­ni­ty Health Sur­vey. Of these respon­dents, 312 had a major depres­sive episode with­in the year pre­ced­ing the sur­vey and 877 report­ed that while they were under the age of 18 and still liv­ing at home that at least one par­ent who drank or used drugs “so often that it caused prob­lems for the fam­i­ly”.

Results indi­cate that indi­vid­u­als whose par­ents were addict­ed to drugs or alco­hol are more like­ly to devel­op depres­sion than their peers. After adjust­ing for age, sex and race, parental addic­tions were asso­ci­at­ed with more than twice the odds of adult depres­sion, says lead author Esme Fuller-Thom­son, Pro­fes­sor and San­dra Rot­man Endowed Chair in the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto’s Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work and the Depart­ment of Fam­i­ly and Com­mu­ni­ty Med­i­cine.

“Even after adjust­ing for fac­tors rang­ing from child­hood mal­treat­ment and parental unem­ploy­ment to adult health behav­iours includ­ing smok­ing and alco­hol con­sump­tion, we found that parental addic­tions were asso­ci­at­ed with 69 per cent high­er odds of depres­sion in adult­hood” explains Fuller-Thom­son. The study was co-authored with four grad­u­ate stu­dents at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to, Robyn Katz, Vi Phan, Jes­si­ca Lid­dy­coat and Sarah Bren­nen­stuhl.

This study could not deter­mine the cause of the rela­tion­ship between parental addic­tions and adult depres­sion. Co-author Robyn Katz, sug­gests that “It is pos­si­ble that the pro­longed and inescapable strain of parental addic­tions may per­ma­nent­ly alter the way these children’s bod­ies reacts to stress through­out their life. 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.”

“These find­ings under­score the inter­gen­er­a­tional con­se­quences of drug and alco­hol addic­tion and rein­force the need to devel­op inter­ven­tions that sup­port healthy child­hood devel­op­ment,” says Prof. Fuller-Thom­son. “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.”

Link to research:


For more infor­ma­tion, con­tact:

Prof. Esme Fuller-Thom­son
Pro­fes­sor & San­dra Rot­man Chair
Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work
Depart­ment of  Fam­i­ly & Com­mu­ni­ty Med­i­cine
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Cell: 011 (44) 7806 619640 (Cur­rent­ly in Eng­land)

Dominic Ali
Media Rela­tions Offi­cer
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Tel: 416–978.6974