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Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2009 Apr;33(4):601-10. Epub 2007 Aug 29.

Childhood neglect and parental care perception in cocaine addicts: relation with psychiatric symptoms and biological correlates.

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UNODC, Global Challenges Section, Division for Operations, P.O. Box 500, A-1400 Vienna, Austria.


Childhood neglect and poor child-parent relationships have been reported to increase substance use disorders susceptibility. Stressful environmental factors, including emotional neglect, could affect individual personality traits and mental health, possibly inducing stable changes in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and brain mono-amine function, in turn involved in addictive behavior vulnerability. Therefore, we decided to investigate homovanillic (HVA) and prolactin (PRL) plasma levels, as expression of possible changes in dopamine function, ACTH and cortisol plasma levels, as measures of HPA axis function, and concomitant psychiatric symptoms profile in abstinent cocaine addicts, in relationship to their childhood history of neglect and poor parental care perception.


Fifty abstinent cocaine dependent patients, and 44 normal controls, matched for age and sex, were submitted to a detailed psychiatric assessment (DSM IV criteria). All patients and controls completed the Symptoms Check List-90 (SCL-90) and the Buss Durkee Hostility Inventory (BDHI), to evaluate psychiatric symptoms frequency and aggressiveness levels. The Childhood Experience of Care and Abuse-Questionnaire (CECA-Q) and Parental Bonding Instrument (PBI) have been used to retrospectively investigate parent-child relationships. Blood samples were collected to determine HVA, PRL, ACTH and cortisol basal plasma levels.


Cocaine addicted individuals in general showed significantly lower HVA, and higher PRL, ACTH and cortisol basal levels respect to controls. In particular, neuroendocrine changes characterized cocaine addicts with childhood history of neglect and low perception of parental care. Obsessive-compulsive, depression and aggressiveness symptoms have been found related to poor parenting, inversely associated to HVA levels and directly associated to PRL, ACTH and cortisol levels.


These findings suggest the possibility that childhood experience of neglect and poor parent-child attachment may partially contribute to a complex neurobiological derangement including HPA axis and dopamine system dysfunctions, playing a crucial role in addictive and affective disorders susceptibility.

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