Childhood stress exposure among preadolescents with and without family histories of substance use disorders

Psychol Addict Behav. 2015 Mar;29(1):192-200. doi: 10.1037/adb0000020. Epub 2014 Aug 18.


Having a family history of substance use disorders (FH+) increases risk for developing a substance use disorder. This risk may be at least partially mediated by increased exposure to childhood stressors among FH+ individuals. However, measures typically used to assess exposure to stressors are narrow in scope and vary across studies. The nature of stressors that disproportionately affect FH+ children and how these stressors relate to later substance use in this population are not well understood. The purpose of this study was to assess exposure to a broad range of stressors among FH+ and FH- children to better characterize how exposure to childhood stressors relates to increased risk for substance misuse among FH+ individuals. A total of 386 children (305 FH+, 81 FH-; ages 10-12) were assessed using the Stressful Life Events Schedule before the onset of regular substance use. Both the number and severity of stressors were compared. Preliminary follow-up analyses were done for 53 adolescents who subsequently reported initiation of substance use. FH+ children reported more frequent and severe stressors than did FH- children, specifically in the areas of housing, family, school, crime, peers, and finances. Additionally, risk for substance use initiation during early adolescence was influenced directly by having a family history of substance use disorders and also indirectly through increased exposure to stressors among FH+ individuals. In conclusion, FH+ children experience greater stress across multiple domains, which contributes to their risk for substance misuse and related problems during adolescence and young adulthood. (PsycINFO Database Record

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Comorbidity
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Gene-Environment Interaction
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / genetics*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / genetics
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Risk Factors
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / genetics*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Texas