Internalizing and Externalizing Problems Among Young Adults Who Had Depressive or Drug Disorders in Adolescence

In a long-term longitudinal study of psychopathology from age 5 to 21, Giaconia et al. (2001) tested age 21 outcomes for participants who had been diagnosed as having major depression or drug disorders at age 18. Most no longer met diagnostic criteria for the same disorders at age 21. However, those who had met diagnostic criteria for either type of disorder at age 18 had significantly higher Young Adult Self-Report (YASR) Externalizing scores than the other study participants at age 21.

It may seem surprising that not only drug disorders but also depressive disorders were followed by high Externalizing scores. However, Giaconia et al. cited other studies that have likewise found links between depression and Externalizing problems. In addition to the higher YASR Externalizing scores found for the two diagnostic groups, both the YASR and the Young Adult Behavior Checklist (YABCL) completed by the participants’ mothers showed significantly higher age 21 Internalizing scores for those who had major depression at age 18 than for other participants in the study.

Adolescents who had depressive and drug disorders thus continued to show high levels of problems across the transition to adulthood, even though most of them no longer met DSM criteria for the diagnoses.

Reference: Giaconia, R.M., Reinherz, H.Z., Paradis, A.D., Hauf, A.M.C., & Stashwick, C.K. (2001). Major depression and drug disorders in adolescence: General and specific impairments in early adulthood. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 40, 1426-1433.