Journal of Child and Family Studies

, Volume 26, Issue 9, pp 2485–2494 | Cite as

Effects of Maternal Depression Symptoms and Alcohol Use Problems on Child Internalizing and Externalizing Behavior Problems

  • Glenn R. Mesman
  • Nicola A. Edge
  • Lorraine M. McKelvey
  • Joy L. Pemberton
  • Khiela J. Holmes
Original Paper


Empirical evidence suggests maternal behavioral health problems are significant predictors of child behavioral health difficulties, but it is unclear of the specific relation of maternal alcohol use problems and depression symptoms with child internalizing and externalizing behavior problems. The purpose of the study is to examine the impact of maternal depression symptoms and alcohol use problems on children’s internalizing and externalizing behavior problems over a period of 5 years. Implications for intervention may differ depending on which type of maternal behavioral health concerns predicts which child behavior problem. A total of 1874 families eligible for Early Head Start participated. Maternal depression symptoms and alcohol use problems were assessed when children were in preschool, and internalizing and externalizing behavior problems were assessed when children were in fifth grade. Clinical internalizing behavior problems was best predicted by maternal depression symptoms, whereas clinical externalizing behavior problems was best predicted by maternal alcohol use problems. Children were almost twice as likely to have clinical internalizing behavior problems when mothers exhibited very elevated depression symptoms compared to when mothers displayed minimal symptoms. A similar relation was found with maternal alcohol use problems and clinical externalizing behavior problems. Our findings highlight the importance of understanding and treating various kinds of behavioral health concerns in mothers of young children.


Children Externalizing Mothers Alcohol Depression 


Author Contributions

G.M.: wrote the majority of the introduction and discussion, assisted with writing the method and results, edited all manuscript revisions, and was responsible for the manuscript submission process. N.E.: assisted in the design and execution of the study, analyzed the data, assisted in writing the method and results. L.M.: assisted in the design and execution of the study, assisted in writing the method and results. J.P.: assisted in writing the introduction. K.H.: assisted in writing the introduction.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Glenn R. Mesman
    • 1
  • Nicola A. Edge
    • 2
  • Lorraine M. McKelvey
    • 2
  • Joy L. Pemberton
    • 1
  • Khiela J. Holmes
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychiatry, Division of Child and Adolescent PsychiatryUniversity of Arkansas for Medical SciencesLittle RockUSA
  2. 2.Department of Family and Preventative MedicineUniversity of Arkansas for Medical SciencesLittle RockUSA

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