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

Nora E. Charles, Stacy R. Ryan, Ashley Acheson, Charles W. Mathias, Yuanyuan Liang, Donald M. Dougherty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)192-200
Number of pages9
JournalPsychology of Addictive Behaviors
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2015


  • Children
  • Family history
  • Risk
  • Stress
  • Substance use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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