Anxiety disorder is the common name for a group of officially defined mental health conditions centered on prominent and potentially debilitating reactions to everyday and unusual stress. People affected by one of these conditions may have increased odds of receiving a diagnosis for alcohol use disorder (the current term that applies to both alcohol abuse and alcoholism). In a study published in May 2014 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from three U.S. institutions investigated the role that parental support during adolescence can play in reducing the risks for alcohol use disorder in teens and younger adults with an anxiety disorder diagnosis.
The terms used to diagnose anxiety disorders come from the American Psychiatric Association (APA), which maintains a separate category for these conditions in its widely used reference text, called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Specific ailments in this category include panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social phobia (social anxiety disorder), separation anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, specific phobia and selective mutism.
Ailments previously defined as anxiety disorders but now grouped in their own separate diagnostic categories include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acute stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The specific symptoms of anxiety disorders vary considerably. However, in general, these ailments involve a dysfunctional or debilitating reaction to everyday or extraordinary events that does not occur in most people.
Alcohol Use Disorder
Alcohol use disorder is characterized by symptoms associated with the dysfunctional, non-addicted abuse of alcohol, symptoms associated with alcoholism (i.e., alcohol dependence) or a combination of both types of symptoms. The APA established this definition in May 2013 at the same time that it removed separate definitions for alcohol abuse and alcoholism from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.
This change reflects current, evidence-based thinking among researchers and practicing doctors, which holds that these two alcohol-related ailments commonly intertwine to one degree or another, rather than appearing as distinct, easily differentiated conditions.
Doctors use the number of alcohol abuse/alcoholism symptoms present in each person to determine the seriousness of alcohol use disorder. Heavily impacted people have a severe form of the disorder marked by at least six out of 11 possible symptoms. Moderate alcohol use disorder involves four or five of the potential symptoms, while mild alcohol use disorder involves two or three of the potential symptoms.
Impact Of Parental Support
Current evidence indicates that parental support can have a significant impact on young adults’ risks for a number of serious behavioral and health problems. In the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Temple University and the Oregon Research Institute used a long-term examination of 817 people to explore the impact that adequate parental support has on the alcohol use disorder risks of people diagnosed with some form of anxiety disorder. The researchers began their examination when the study participants were an average of 16 years old and continued their work until the participants reached an average age of 30.
After reviewing the anxiety disorder histories and the alcohol use disorder histories of the study participants, the researchers concluded that maternal support, in particular, has a significant impact on the alcohol use disorder risks of any teenager or young adult diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. When maternal levels of support are high, the risks for alcohol use disorder drop.
How Long Will Negative Maternal Support Affect A Child?
Conversely, when the level of maternal support is low, alcohol use disorder risks rise. The researchers concluded that high maternal support produces its clearest protective benefits before any given child reaches age 20. They also concluded that the damaging impact of inadequate maternal support continues to exert its effects until at least age 30. Interestingly, the researchers concluded that high or low levels of paternal support do not have a substantial impact on the alcohol use disorder risks of teens and young adults diagnosed with anxiety disorders.
Impact Of Programs That Focus On Strength Of Maternal Support
Based on their findings, the study’s authors believe that maternal support may play a critical role in the development of serious alcohol problems in young people affected by an anxiety disorder. Their findings also lead them to believe that programs that focus on the strength of maternal support may lead to an improved ability to prevent alcohol use disorder in anxiety-affected individuals, in addition to leading to improved treatment for existing cases of alcohol use disorder in these individuals.