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Substance abuse and depression link.

A National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) study provides compelling evidence of a genetic link between depression and substance abuse disorders. "This means that if someone in your family suffers from severe depression, you and other family members need to be aware that not only are you at risk for developing depression, you also may stand an increased chance of developing a substance abuse disorder," explains Loring J. Ingraham, an NIMH intramural scientist in the Laboratory of Psychology and Psychopathology.

Researchers have been aware for some time that a strong genetic component exists for certain forms of severe depressive illness. They also have known that, if one person in a family has a substance abuse disorder, other relatives are at risk for becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs. Until now, however, scientists have had difficulty separating the influence of genetic from environmental factors when the illnesses occurred together in the same family.

The investigators found that people biologically related to depressed individuals were about twice as likely as relatives of non-depressed people to develop either a depressive or a substance abuse disorder--usually alcoholism. The findings come from a study of 67 people in Scandinavia who were adopted as babies and hospitalized for the treatment of a depressive illness sometime during their lifetimes. The frequency of depression or substance abuse in their biological and adopted families was compared to that of families of adoptees with no history of hospitalization for depressive illness.

Examination of hospital records showed that, among adoptees with a depressive disorder, about five percent of their biological relatives also had one, and four percent had a substance abuse disorder. The probability that there is a genetically transmitted liability for developing these disorders was bolstered by evidence from the records of biological relatives of non-depressed adoptees. About two percent of the biologically related family members of non-depressed adoptees had suffered from depression severe enough to require hospitalization. The rate of hospital treatment for substance abuse for these family members also was about two percent. The frequency of depression or substance abuse requiring a hospital stay in the adoptive relatives of both sets of adoptees was between one and two percent. This is about the rate of hospitalization for these disorders in the general population, Ingraham points out.
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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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