Reducing Risk for Adolescent Drinking by Targeting Maternal Depression

It is well-established that maternal depression can lead to a host of negative outcomes for mothers and children. Children of depressed mothers are more likely to engage in risky behavior than those of nondepressed mothers. They are at increased risk for internalizing and externalizing behaviors and are vulnerable to mood issues such as depression and anxiety. The emotional unavailability of depressed mothers can diminish any feelings of maternal warmth and may cause mothers to engage in especially harsh parenting practices. Children of depressed mothers may choose to cope by turning to alcohol at a young age. Heavy episodic drinking (HED) is one strategy that teens often use to cope with overwhelming and painful situations. Dorian A. Lamis of the Department of Psychology at the University of South Carolina wanted to find out if maternal depression increased HED and, if so, what steps could be taken to diminish its effect.

In a recent study, Lamis collected self-reports from more than 700 parents and their children for 13 years, stopping when the children entered the 11th grade. The data revealed that the children with depressed mothers began drinking earlier than those whose mothers were not depressed. Lamis also discovered that harsh parenting increased the likelihood of early-onset HED.

Lamis knows the self-reports used in this study could be biased and hopes future research will use clinical assessments to further support these findings. Also, factors such as divorce and parental conflict should be considered in future work. Despite these limitations, this research demonstrates that mothers with depression need early interventions not only for their well-being but for the long-term well-being and adjustment of their children. Lamis believes that interventions that target reducing depression and teaching constructive parenting practices may decrease the chance that their children will later engage in risky behavior such as alcohol use. These treatments should also include strategies to reduce mood and depression problems in children of depressed parents. “These improved intervention and prevention programs could have important implications for reducing the occurrence and early initiation of alcohol use and HED among at-risk youths,” Lamis said.

Lamis, Dorian A., Patrick S. Malone, Jennifer E. Lansford, and John E. Lochman. Maternal depressive symptoms as a predictor of alcohol use onset and heavy episodic drinking in youths. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 80.5 (2012): 887-96. Print.

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  • Luna

    October 19th, 2012 at 4:51 AM

    I would like to know if this is only relative to kids of moms who were just depressed when they were pregnant of if this has to be a trend in their lives that they have experienced over many years. I could see how both would have a pretty profound effect on a child, but especially if this is something that a child sees day in and day out they might turn to a behavior like drinking in order to cope.

  • P.Mills

    October 19th, 2012 at 10:30 AM

    Oh I can see how this plays out.Depressed parents can also mean drinking behavior in the parent and therefore the child picks up from there.Also,most families that are separated or fragmented have children picking up on drinking earlier.This needs to be stemmed.

  • larson

    October 20th, 2012 at 5:15 AM

    The one aspect of this that I would like to argue is that lot of this could be counter balanced somewhat if there is another strong parent in the child’s life who could show them that this is not the only way to cope with life. However with the divorce rates the way that they are and the growing number of single parent homes, well, that isn’t always going to be the case. Many times the only example that these children will have will be the depressed parent who either can’t or won’t make the time to get help, and then surprise, they pass along the residual problems to their children.

  • Raven

    October 20th, 2012 at 1:41 PM

    So true, a mother’s care and affection can have heaps of benefits in it. I have seen many young people from broken families losing their way, mainly because they have not been able to get that care,concern and connection from either parent.And yes,many of those youngsters indulge in risky behavior including alcohol and drug usage and constant run ins with the law.

  • jan

    October 22nd, 2012 at 11:01 AM

    What happens when the mom won’t acknowledge that there is a problem to be intervened with? What them? Just hold your breath and hope for the best?

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