December 23rd, 2009
I think it’s common knowledge that children are more likely to develop a psychiatric disorder when one of their parents is diagnosed with one. Just in case it isn’t, as much as 80% of the likelihood that a person will develop a mental health disorder is genetically determined.
The genetics of mental health and addiction
The thing is, some studies have shown that children are more likely to get any disorder, while other have shown that a child is most likely to get a similar disorder to the parents. Granted, for things like anxiety, and depression, knowing which of the two answers is correct may not matter much (though for some parents it does). But when it comes to substance-abuse, parents want to know whether they should take special precautions, which is especially true if addiction runs in the family or if any psychological disorders are common.
A recent study tried to answer that question while focusing on anxiety, conduct disorder, depression, and substance use . The researchers’ reasons for choosing these four disorders had to do with repeated findings about the association between them .
The results showed that if both parents displayed generalized anxiety disorder their children were more likely to suffer from anxiety and depressive disorder . It was also revealed that parental substance use was associated with an increased risk of conduct disorders in offspring.
In general, these results indicate that the heritability is not super-specific. However, it seems that while substance abuse and things like depression and anxiety are related, parents transmit disorders in a relatively specific way. So, if you’re worried about your children having substance abuse problems, I’d look more toward family history of those or impulse and attention problem, not depression and anxiety.
1. Johnson, J.G., Cohen, P., Kasen, S., & Brook, J. S. (2008) Parental Concordance and Offspring Risk for Anxiety, Conduct, Depressive, and Substance Use Disorder, Psychopathology, 41: 124-128.
2. Merikangas, K.R., Dierker, L. C., & Szatmari, P. (1998) Psychopathology Among Offspring of Parents with Substance Abuse and/or Anxiety Disorder: A High-risk Study, Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 39: 711-720.