Addiction in Parents May Lead to Arthritis in Children
The Toronto researchers surveyed 13,036 adults for a variety of adverse childhood conditions, including parental addiction, adult health behaviors, mental health and current socioeconomic status. Of the participants, 20.4 percent had been diagnosed with arthritis, while 14.5 percent reported growing up in a household where at least one parent struggled with alcohol or drug addiction.
By analyzing the overall results, the researchers—led by the University of Toronto Department of Family and Community Medicine Chairwoman Esme Fuller-Thomson—found that those who reported a history of parental addiction were significantly more likely to suffer from arthritis. After adjusting for variables like sex, race and age, the study showed that the children of addicted households were 58 percent more likely to have been diagnosed with arthritis in adulthood.
Risks of Growing Up With Addiction
People who grow up in addicted households are already known to face increased risk for a variety of health and developmental problems. These individuals are more likely to perform poorly in school, suffer from psychiatric disorders, develop symptoms of anxiety or depression, and suffer from addiction problems themselves. Chronic illness such as obesity is also more common in adults who grew up with an addicted parent. The results of these health problems can be serious—premature death is twice as common among children of addicted households, for which the greater risk of substance abuse, suicide and violence at home are largely responsible.
This new research suggests yet another chronic health problem that appears with unusual frequency in people who grew up in households where drug or alcohol abuse was present.
Searching for a Cause
Thomson and her fellow researchers thought that they might find a plausible explanation for the greater incidence of arthritis by examining the adult health behavior questions that they asked each respondent. These included questions about obesity and exercise, smoking and alcohol use. Obesity and being overweight are known risk factors for the development of arthritis.
The researchers also controlled for the other variables in their survey: mental health; adverse childhood experiences including physical abuse; and socioeconomic status, which might also hint at overall health and access to regular healthcare.
However, adjusting the results for all of these variables did not fully account for the increased risk of arthritis in adults who grew up with one or more parents dealing with addiction. Even after all of these various factors were taken into account, results still showed that individuals from addicted households were 30 percent more likely to have been diagnosed with arthritis.
These results suggest that there may be a causal link between growing up with an addicted parent and developing arthritis.
Waiting for More Research
This is the first study to draw a connection between arthritis and parental addiction, and further research is needed to confirm or dispute the findings of the Toronto team. Furthermore, the nature of the University of Toronto study cannot, on its own, show that growing up with parental addiction will cause certain individuals to develop arthritis. However, the results of the study are significant enough to motivate future researchers to look for similar results, or to attempt studies that can show a definitive causal connection between living with a parent who has an addiction and suffering from arthritis as an adult.