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Parents are often the greatest influence on young children. This influence can be either good or bad. Researchers from the University of Toronto have found that, unfortunately, a parent’s drug or alcohol addiction can not only involve the child in a world of substance abuse, but may influence the risk a child may have of developing depression as an adult.

Children who see their parents dependent on drugs or alcohol may get caught up in that same world of addiction. They are caught in and influenced by that atmosphere. Other children may see their parent’s pain, their struggle, and their weakness; or may fear the wrath and unpredictable behaviors of their parents when the substances take over their parent. Mentally, it is difficult to process the pain, fear, anger, loneliness, and multiple other emotions that a child feels when their parent is held captive by alcohol or drugs.

University of Toronto researcher and lead author of the study, Esme Fuller-Thomson, Ph.D., says that their study found that the children of a parent who had an addiction to drugs or alcohol had a 69 percent greater chance of developing depression as an adult. In the online journal Psychiatry Research, Fuller-Thomson describes how the researchers studied 6,268 adults in the 2005 Canadian Community Health Survey and the relationship between the onset of depression and of parents who had suffered from an alcohol or drug addiction.

While the study determined a huge link between parental substance addiction and their offspring’s adult depression, it was not able to define the exact cause of the link. However, researchers of the study did have their own speculations as to the links.

When a parent has an addiction, the children live in an unpredictable world. Uncertainties as to safety, love, belonging, and all aspects of family life can cause immense stress on a child. Study co-author Robyn Katz believes that the constant stress in family life may alter how children react to stress as they grow older. Further research in how these children react in stressful situations could yield more information on why these children are at such a high risk of developing depression.  Some flee during stressful situations while others try and confront them.

Children need good role models. Researchers suggest that if a parent has an addiction, other family members and close friends should step in and help support that child. They should reassure them when they feel stress and have fears. They should offer love and safety and an open heart, and be a good listener.

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