Parental psychopathology in families of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and exposed to maternal smoking during pregnancy

J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2015 Feb;56(2):122-9. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.12286. Epub 2014 Jun 24.


Background: Both genetic and environmental factors have been implicated in the etiology of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). We had previously suggested that exposure to maternal smoking during pregnancy (MSDP) may be a valid basis for delineating a distinct subtype of ADHD, where children exposed to MSDP present with a more severe clinical picture. Here, we examine the psychopathology of parents in this group, to better understand the etiology of ADHD.

Methods: Using the Family Interview for Genetic Studies in a sample of 514 families of children with ADHD, we collected data pertaining to lifetime parental psychopathology. Families were stratified based on maternal smoking during the complete gestational period. The frequency of different disorders was compared using the χ2 statistic.

Results: In the group where mothers smoked during pregnancy, both parents were significantly more likely to have antisocial personality disorder, and problems with alcohol and drug abuse. Mothers had a significantly higher frequency of major depressive disorder (MDD), while fathers showed a trend for both MDD and bipolar disorder.

Conclusions: Based on the pattern of psychopathology in parents of children exposed to MSDP, as well as earlier reports of the severe clinical, behavioral, and cognitive phenotype in these children, combined with the large body of epidemiological evidence, we propose that these children present a distinct subtype of ADHD with comorbid conduct disorder. Furthermore, we propose that MSDP may be a proxy measure to help delineate this subtype.

Keywords: Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder; behavior problems; comorbidity; family history; smoking.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity* / chemically induced
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity* / epidemiology
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity* / etiology
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity* / genetics
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects* / epidemiology
  • Quebec / epidemiology
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*