Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 44, Issue 9, pp 724–731

Impact of early childhood adversities on adult psychiatric disorders

A study of international adoptees
  • Esther J. M. van der Vegt
  • Wendy Tieman
  • Jan van der Ende
  • Robert F. Ferdinand
  • Frank C. Verhulst
  • Henning Tiemeier



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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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Copyright information

© Steinkopff Verlag Darmstadt 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Esther J. M. van der Vegt
    • 1
  • Wendy Tieman
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jan van der Ende
    • 1
  • Robert F. Ferdinand
    • 1
  • Frank C. Verhulst
    • 1
  • Henning Tiemeier
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Dept. of Child and Adolescent PsychiatryErasmus MC-SophiaRotterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Centre for Child and Family studiesLeiden UniversityLeidenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Dept. of EpidemiologyErasmus MCRotterdamThe Netherlands

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