Study: Spanking raises child’s risk of depression, substance abuse in adulthood

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Spanking can leave an indelible mark on a child well into adulthood, raising one’s risk for battling depression or substance abuse, a new study finds.

Researchers at the University of Michigan looked at data on over 8,300 adults of all ages who had participated in the CDC-Kaiser ACE study, which asked them about their childhood experiences, including their household composition and how often they were physically or emotionally reprimanded.

Little boy hiding on couch
Spanking a child may help curb bad behavior, but it also raises the chances of the child battling depression or substance abuse as an adult, a new study finds.

Participants also completed self-reports while undergoing routine checkups at an outpatient clinic, all of which helped the researchers in determining whether spanking was an “adverse childhood experience” akin to divorce or having an incarcerated relative.

Fifty-five percent of the study’s participants said that they were subjected to spanking as an adolescent, with men more likely to report such abuse than women, the researchers found.

In addition, minority respondents — excluding Asians — were more likely than whites to report having been spanked.

Overall, those who indicated they had been physically or emotionally reprimanded during adolescence were more likely than their peers to feel depressed, attempt suicide, drink heavily, or use illicit substances as an adult.

“Placing spanking in a similar category to physical/emotional abuse experiences would increase our understanding of these adult mental health problems,” argues researcher Andrew Grogan-Kaylor in a university media release.

Fortunately, new or prospective parents can be taught effective childrearing methods before more detrimental ones result in long-lasting trauma, the researchers say.

“This can be achieved by promoting evidence-based parenting programs and policies designed to prevent early adversities, and associated risk factors,” explains researcher Shawna Lee. “Prevention should be a critical direction for public health initiatives to take.”

The study’s findings were published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect.