Childhood Experiences Alcoholic Parents and Risk for Alcoholism
OBJECTIVE: The study examined how growing up with alcoholic parents and having adverse childhood experiences are related to the risk of alcoholism and depression in adulthood.
METHODS: In this retrospective cohort study, 9,346 adults who visited a primary care clinic of a large health maintenance organization completed a survey about nine adverse childhood experiences: experiencing childhood emotional, physical, and sexual abuse; witnessing domestic violence; parental separation or divorce; and growing up with drug-abusing, mentally ill, suicidal, or criminal household members. The associations between parental alcohol abuse, the adverse experiences, and alcoholism and depression in adulthood were assessed by logistic regression analyses.
RESULTS: The risk of having had all nine of the adverse childhood experiences was significantly greater among the 20 percent of respondents who reported parental alcohol abuse. The number of adverse experiences had a graded relationship to alcoholism and depression in adulthood, independent of parental alcohol abuse. The prevalence of alcoholism was higher among persons who reported parental alcohol abuse, no matter how many adverse experiences they reported. The association between parental alcohol abuse and depression was accounted for by the higher risk of having adverse childhood experiences in alcoholic families.
CONCLUSIONS: Children in alcoholic households are more likely to have adverse experiences. The risk of alcoholism and depression in adulthood increases as the number of reported adverse experiences increases regardless of parental alcohol abuse. Depression among adult children of alcoholics appears to be largely, if not solely, due to the greater likelihood of having had adverse childhood experiences in a home with alcohol-abusing parents.
Robert F. Anda, M.D., M.S., Charles L. Whitfield, M.D., Vincent J. Felitti, M.D., Daniel Chapman, Ph.D., Valerie J. Edwards, Ph.D., Shanta R. Dube, M.P.H. and David F. Williamson, Ph.D. Adverse Childhood Experiences, Alcoholic Parents, and Later Risk of Alcoholism and Depression Psychiatr Serv 53:1001-1009, August 2002