Moms Who Smoked, Withheld Affection Set Kids Up for Alcohol, Mental Health Issues
Alcohol and Dual Diagnosis
The term dual diagnosis applies to any combination of diagnosable substance problems and separately diagnosable mental illness. As a rule, a person affected by such a combination of conditions has an unusually hard time finding and completing effective treatment and eventually returning to general good health. Current evidence indicates that close to 33 percent of all American adults affected by a mental illness such as major depression, schizophrenia or an anxiety disorder also qualify as alcohol abusers. Conversely, a somewhat larger percentage of people who qualify as alcohol abusers also have a separately diagnosable mental illness.
Dual diagnosis is a classic example of comorbid health problems. Such problems occur when an individual affected by two or more health issues experiences substantially poorer outcomes than the average person dealing with only a single important health issue. Specific indications of comorbidity in people affected by alcohol abuse/alcoholism and a separate mental health condition include reduced access to treatment, a reduced tendency to take appropriate medications, higher rates for severely damaging health outcomes and higher odds of dying prematurely.
Family-related factors are a known influence on both substance problems and the odds of developing a diagnosable mental illness. For example, the children of substance-using parents are statistically much more likely to use cigarettes, drink alcohol or use drugs themselves; they also have increased odds of developing an abusive relationship to substance intake. Parents’ substance abuse can also lead to increased risks for mental illness in their children. Additional damaging, family-related influences on children’s mental health include living in a household environment that fosters violence or other forms of serious discord, a general lack of family cohesion, lack of positive support from a parent and the death of parent prior to the middle stages of adolescence. Several factors have less negative influence than once commonly believed, including living in a household affected by divorce and having a mother who holds a job outside of the household.
Impact on Alcohol Problems and Mental Illness
In the study slated for publication in Addiction, the University of Queensland researchers used a large, long-term project called the Mater-University of Queensland Study of Pregnancy to assess the impact that family-related factors have on the comorbid presence of diagnosable alcohol problems and separate mental illness in early adulthood. A total of 6,703 pregnant women originally participated in this project. At the time of the current study, the researchers focused their examination on 1,755 children of these mothers who had reached age 21. They used psychiatric histories and extensive interviews with these individuals to uncover any alcohol problems or additional mental health issues.
The researchers preliminarily concluded that the young adults enrolled in the study fell into one of four distinct groups: people with no history of alcohol or mental health issues, people only affected by alcohol-related issues, people only affected by separate mental health issues and people affected by both alcohol-related issues and separately diagnosable mental health issues. After further analysis of the last of these four groups, they concluded that two family-related factors increase the odds that a young adult will be affected by alcohol-related dual diagnosis: having a mother who smoked cigarettes and having a mother who displayed little or no affection for her children. A third, less important factor is having a father with significant alcohol problems.
The study’s authors also concluded that three individual factors increase the odds that a young adult will qualify for an alcohol-related dual diagnosis: consuming alcohol during adolescence, smoking cigarettes during adolescence and having problems focusing attention or thinking clearly. Interestingly, these factors apparently don’t play as big a role in the isolated development of serious alcohol problems or the isolated development of mental illness in young adulthood.