Associations of familial risk factors with social fears and social phobia: evidence for the continuum hypothesis in social anxiety disorder?

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We examined parental psychopathology and family environment in subthreshold and DSM-IV threshold conditions of social anxiety disorder (SAD) in a representative cohort sample of 1,395 adolescents. Offspring and parental psychopathology was assessed using the DIA-X/M-CIDI; recalled parental rearing and family functioning via questionnaire. Diagnostic interviews in parents were supplemented by family history reports from offspring. The cumulative lifetime incidence was 23.07% for symptomatic SAD, and 18.38 and 7.41% for subthreshold and threshold SAD, respectively. The specific parent-to-offspring association for SAD occurred for threshold SAD only. For subthreshold and threshold SAD similar associations were found with other parental anxiety disorders, depression and substance use disorders. Parental rearing behaviour, but not family functioning, was associated with offspring threshold SAD, and although less strong and less consistent, also with subthreshold SAD. Results suggest a continued graded relationship between familial risk factors and offspring SAD. Parental psychopathology and negative parental styles may be used defining high-risk groups to assign individuals with already subthreshold conditions of SAD to early intervention programs.

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