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Case Study: Parental Addictions and Child Development

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In the article...

Parental Substance Abuse as an Early Traumatic Event: Preliminary Findings on Neuropsychological and Personality Functioning in Young Drug Addicts Exposed to Drugs Early”

...the authors conducted research to investigate the impact of early exposure to drug abuse on children and the impact of this exposure on the psychological status of young, adult drug addicts. This case study from Ultius looks to see if the research was to examine if this exposure is considered an early traumatic event and if this event influenced the young addict to abuse drugs or alcohol. The researchers examined the neuropsychological functioning of the young addict to identify the relation to parental addiction.

Parental Addictions on the Developing Child - Research found in the article

According to the research, parental substance abuse has a major impact on the healthy development of the child (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). Children exposed to drug abuse are more vulnerable to engaging in high risk behaviors in adolescents and young adulthood. Drug exposure during childhood has also been identified as a traumatic event for the child. Parents who are addicted to substances place their children in dangerous and unsafe conditions (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). The parent is not loving or nurturing negatively impacting the child/parent bond.

The research questions for the research is

“Does early exposure to drug abuse impact the neuropsychological and personality functioning in young drug addicts?”

Early exposure's effect on children

According to the literature, early drug exposure is a traumatic event (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). The trauma from this event impacts the child’s normal development. The child will be exposed to adverse events and live in unsafe living conditions. Many children exposed to drug abuse by the parent, model similar behavior (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). The research seeks to understand if this behavior is the result of the trauma of having a drug-addicted parent.

The subjects in the research were recruited from the therapeutic community. The sample consisted of young adults that meet the DSM criteria for a substance use disorder (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). All participants were between the ages of 18-24 ad and had been in a treatment facility for at least one month and had at least three months sobriety. The clinical group consisted of 30 drug addicts (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). The participants were divided into two groups.

  1. The first group was exposed to parental drug abuse (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016).
  2. The second group consisted of young addicts who were not exposed to parental substance abuse or who do not take drug or abuse alcohol.

The first group had at least one biological parent who had exposed them to drug at a young age (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). The participants must have been exposed at birth or during the early stages of development.  The participant parent must have been addicted to alcohol or illegal drugs and had custody of the child during early development. Out of the participants, 66.7% were males with a mean age of 20 (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). From this number, 73.3% were exposed to drug in the womb or during conception (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). 

For the second group, 53.3% male with a mean age of 21 (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). The population are not exposed to parental drug or alcohol abuse, but both groups were characterized with poverty and low levels of education (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). The sample consisted of a high number of heroin users, but alcohol, cannabis, and cocaine were also abused. In the clinical group, 93.3% abused cocaine while 100% had used cannabis (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). In addition, prescription drug abuse was high in both groups. Opioid use was high at 53.3% while methadone use was at 46.7% (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). The onset of the addiction for the majority of the members of the control and clinical group was between the age of 15 and 16.

The sampling procedure used in the research was a nonrandomized design. Researchers identified participants from the therapeutic community to participate in the research. Participants lived in Villa Renata and were attending inpatient substance abuse treatment (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). Patients admitted to the treatment center were assessed for their eligibility. Out of 121 patients, 30 were eligible and agreed to participate in the study. The comparison group was recruited from local vocation schools (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). A majority of the participants in both the clinical group and the comparison group were male.

Data was collected in the study by collecting data on both groups. The sample was assessed using the

“neuropsychological battery and an assessment procedure for personality disorders, and the Symptom CheckList-90-Revised” (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016, p. 889).

The Brief Neuropsychological Examination-2 was employed to gather data on the participants neuropsychological effects (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). Neurological testing involved the use od 16 subtests and 10 trial making tests (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). Participants were also assessed using single cognitive tasks and word phonemic fluency tests.

Next, researchers examined the overall cognitive profile of the sample and the samples education level. Participants were given the Shedler–Western Assessment Procedure to examine their psychological functioning and to conduct a personality based on the personality clusters defined by the DSM (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). Empirical evidence on the topic was also examined to support research findings. The Symptom Checklist was used to gather data on clinical symptoms. The checklist measured nine psychiatric dimensions. These dimensions include sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression, hostility, obsessive-compulsive behavior, phobic anxiety, paranoid ideation, and interpersonal sensitivity (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). Psychological distress was measured using the Positive Symptom Distress Index (PSDI) (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). The validity of these measurements tools was tested.

Data was analyzed using the IBM Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). Descriptive statistics were used to analysis qualitative data. The data analyzed includes the frequencies, mean scores, and percentages (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). For quantitative research, non-parametric tests were used to analyze the data. To analyze this data, Spearman's Rho correlation test, the Pearson's Chi-Square test, and the Mann–Whitney U test were used (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). The analysis of the results indicated the global symptomatologic profile of both groups was similar.

Results gathered from the analysis looking at parental addictions on a developing child

Based on the analysis, the results of the self-report showed the group with exposure to parental substance abuse displayed clinical features ranging from anxiety and depression to “high levels of depression, hostility, and psychoticism” (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016, p. 890). The comparisons group display signs of anxiety and depression but the other symptoms were not present. Based on the SWAP-200, a majority of the members of the clinical group displayed Personality Disorders (PDs) (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). Personality disorders identified in the clinical group included

  • Histrionic Personality Disorder
  • Borderline Personality features
  • Dependent and Schizotypal characteristics

For neuropsychological functioning, comparisons were made between the two groups. Socio-demographical variables were measured in both groups. The Kruskal–Wallis test was used to rank the variables (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). The test examined five psychiatric dimensions.The chi-square test measured depression and psychoticism applying the Bonferroni correction test. No statistical significance was found. The Mann–Whitney U test analyzed symptomatic dimensions including anxiety, depression, psychoticism, and hostility (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). The test revealed significant results.

The findings of the research showed when the sample was exposed to alcohol or illegal substance invitro, they experience higher levels of neuro-behavioral problems (Heeren & Flaudias, 2016). The parenting style received by the clinical group along with their environment and exposure to adverse event directly correlated to their substance abuse problems. When children are exposed to parents who are addicted to substances, they are at a greater risk for the development of personality disorders, neurological dysfunction, and mental illness. Neurological examines revealed attentive and executive functions were impaired along with cognitive impairments. For the comparison group, the same neurological impairment was not present.

The research also found, trauma was a leading indicator for future substance abuse. If the child is exposed to adverse events or is not provided with a secure, safe environment, they will experience trauma. The child’s health development is interrupted when they are not properly loved and nurtured by their parents. A biological and genetic link has been identified in previous research, but the findings of this research showed an impact to neurological and psychological functioning. The researcher recommends the use of multi-focused prevention and intervention programs to help the young adult overcome the trauma.

After reading the article, it was clear researchers followed a well-designed research plan and measured the validity of the instruments before their use. Because most of the sample were male and the population was not diverse, it might be more difficult to generalize the findings to the entire population. The sample was nonrandom which could lead to the potential for bias. The researchers clearly explained their data collection methods and how the data was analyzed and presented valid and reliable findings.


Heeren, A. & Flaudias, V. (2016). Parental Substance Abuse as an Early Traumatic Event. Preliminary Findings on Neuropsychological and Personality Functioning in Young Drug Addicts Exposed to Drugs Early. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 887-893



Ultius, Inc. "Case Study: Parental Addictions and Child Development." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. Ultius Blog, 25 Sep. 2018. https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/case-study-the-implications-of-parental-addictions-on-the-developing-child.html

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Ultius, Inc. (2018, September 25). Case Study: Parental Addictions and Child Development. Retrieved from Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services, https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/case-study-the-implications-of-parental-addictions-on-the-developing-child.html

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Ultius, Inc. "Case Study: Parental Addictions and Child Development." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. September 25, 2018 https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/case-study-the-implications-of-parental-addictions-on-the-developing-child.html.

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Ultius, Inc. "Case Study: Parental Addictions and Child Development." Ultius | Custom Writing and Editing Services. September 25, 2018 https://www.ultius.com/ultius-blog/entry/case-study-the-implications-of-parental-addictions-on-the-developing-child.html.

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