ORIGINAL PAPER

Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 44, Issue 9, pp 724-731

First online:

Impact of early childhood adversities on adult psychiatric disorders

A study of international adoptees
  • Esther J. M. van der VegtAffiliated withDept. of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Erasmus MC-Sophia
  • , Wendy TiemanAffiliated withDept. of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Erasmus MC-SophiaCentre for Child and Family studies, Leiden University
  • , Jan van der EndeAffiliated withDept. of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Erasmus MC-Sophia
  • , Robert F. FerdinandAffiliated withDept. of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Erasmus MC-Sophia
  • , Frank C. VerhulstAffiliated withDept. of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Erasmus MC-Sophia
  • , Henning TiemeierAffiliated withDept. of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Erasmus MC-SophiaDept. of Epidemiology, Erasmus MC Email author 

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Abstract

Background

This study investigated international adoptees who were taken out of their problematic environments as a consequence of their adoption to determine the effects of early adversities on adult psychiatric disorders, and to study whether these effects emerged de novo after childhood.

Methods

A total of 1,364 adoptees (63.5% of the baseline sample) were followed. Parents provided information about early adversities prior to adoption, and mental health problems in childhood and adolescence. In adulthood, adoptees completed a standardized interview, generating DSM-IV diagnoses.

Results

Children who experienced multiple adversities had an increased risk of having anxiety disorders (OR = 2.22; 95% CI: 1.11–4.45), mood disorders (OR = 2.20; 95% CI: 1.00–4.86) or substance abuse/dependence (OR = 3.81; 95% CI: 1.62–8.98) in adulthood. Several effects remained significant after correction for mental health problems in childhood and adolescence.

Conclusions

Severe early adversities increase the risk of adult psychopathology, even when children are taken out of their problematic environments. Results suggest that psychiatric disorders may arise de novo after childhood due to early experiences.

Keywords

child abuse child neglect long-term effects DSM-IV adoption