Disturbing Link Between Parental Substance Abuse and Suicide Rates of Offspring

Family seeking psychiatric help.
Family seeking psychiatric help.

New York City’s suicide rate keeps climbing, mirroring a national trend. One possible link: A parent battling drug addiction or mental illness also poses a psychological threat to their child’s future, a new study found.

The intersection of these two disturbing reports was illustrated when police snapped a jarring photo last weekend of a grandmother and her boyfriend they found overdosed in an idling car with a 4-year-old child in the back seat. The Ohio couple received jail time Thursday and the young boy was given to relatives in South Carolina.

It’s a prime example that a parent or guardian’s actions can shape their child. A recent cohort study in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows a parent’s mental illness, including their substance use, has a major impact on their kid’s level of violence and suicide risk.

Marijuana usage by at least one parent increased the rate of a child’s violent tendencies by four times and alcohol use by a parent upped a child’s violence three times.

Eugene Grudnikoff, MD, a psychiatrist at South Oaks Hospital in Amityville, has seen the impact first hand. “Parental troubles that predispose a child for a suicide attempt were similar: alcohol and cannabis use; personality disorders, particularly antisocial personality disorder; and parental suicide attempt,” Dr.  Grudnikoff said. “Having both parents with a mental illness increases the risks further still.”

New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray highlighted the need for mental health treatment in citing the city’s suicide spike. The number of suicides in New York City rose in 2014, according to statistics released this week by the New York City Department of Health. There were 565 suicides that year, up from 448 in 2000.

For households experiencing issues with children and the family dynamic, Dr. Grudnikoff recommends family treatment – with the child at the center of that group therapy – along with individual treatment for both the child and parent.

Parents don’t always recognize their own role in their child’s dysfunction, Dr. Grudnikoff said. South Oaks Hospital examined its re-hospitalizations in 2015 and 2016 and found that parental troubles and stresses had a significant impact on whether a child returned to seek behavioral health services within 30 days.

Dr. Grudnikoff’s big takeaway from this study is that there is a major need for comprehensive mental health care in adults and children.

“Community-based programs and interventions that address parental substance use are particularly important,” Dr. Grudnikoff said. 

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