Parental Problem Drinking is Associated with Children’s Adrenocortical Reactivity to Stress

Peggy S. Keller, Douglas A. Granger, Joanne Tyler, Lauren R. Gilbert, Eric A. Haak, Shuang Bi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis plays an important role in adaptation to stress, but is vulnerable to chronic stress exposure. Parental problem drinking (PPD) represents such a chronic stressor, but there has been little research on children’s HPA axis activity in the context of PPD. To address this gap, associations between PPD and children’s adrenocortical reactivity were examined, with marital aggression and child emotional security as potential intervening variables. Participants were 69 community families (children aged 6–12 years). Children provided saliva samples before and 20 min after a social stress test, which were assayed for cortisol. Parents reported on their problem drinking (PD) and marital aggression, and children reported on their emotional insecurity about the marital relationship. Mother PD was significantly related to greater adrenocortical reactivity in her offspring. Father PD was significantly related to children’s greater involvement in marital conflict, which was significantly related to greater adrenocortical reactivity. Findings therefore indicate that parental PD is related to greater sensitivity of the HPA axis to social stress, partially because of emotional insecurity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3145-3153
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Child and Family Studies
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 13 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, Springer Science+Business Media New York.


  • Cortisol
  • Emotional insecurity
  • Family stress
  • Hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis
  • Marital aggression
  • Problem drinking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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