Researchers have concluded that such childhood punishments as spanking, hitting, and slapping have negative effects on individuals as they grow into adulthood.

Receiving those physical punishments as a child increases one’s risk for mental disorders as an adult. What’s more, a child doesn’t have to be routinely mistreated or experience wide-scale abuse in order to exhibit these specific risk factors. Tracie Afifi, PhD, who works at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, states that adults who experienced spanking, even in small amounts, were more likely to suffer from a range of mood disorders, including anxiety and depression, alcohol and drug issues, and different personality disorders. Afifi also explained that around 7 percent of these kinds of disorders and issues can be ascribed to what she calls these “harsh physical punishments.”

Afifi and her colleagues are not the first or only researchers to recognize the link between mental disorders that occur in adults and the punishments they received as children.

Other studies, however, have routinely been disregarded, because their critics claim a “weaknesses in design, measurement, and analysis” that put their findings in doubt. Afifi’s study was more robust and addressed those concerns by taking into account full-scale abuse as well. Their study used the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, which asked questions of non-institutionalized adults.

The 2004-2005 survey had 34,635 adult participants who were above 20 years old. Those surveyed were asked about their adult mental conditions as well as about whether they were physically punished as a child.

For example, one question asked: “As a child how often were you ever pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped or hit by your parents or any adult living in your house?” The participants answered the question based on a five-point scale that ranged from never to very often.

Other questions asked about any other emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and domestic violence, and if anyone answered yes to those questions, their data set was excluded.

Of the paired down participants who didn’t claim any other type of abuse, 1,258, or 5.9 percent, of them said that they had experienced physical punishment.

This pool of participants was more likely to come from a dysfunctional family, be male, and be African-American. Afifi was able to determine, after making adjustments for family dysfunction and sociodemographic factors, that spanking, hitting, and slapping used as punishments increased the risk of mental disorders.

The risk of severe depression was 41 percent higher; mania was 93 percent higher; risk of addiction to drugs was 53 percent higher; alcoholism was 59 percent higher; various mood disorders were 49 percent higher; and anxiety was 36 percent higher. The researchers note that they were unable to draw any casual inferences about the data, as the study was cross-sectional.

They also noted that their retrospective data meant that recall and reporting biases could be present. However, Afifi and her colleagues maintain that these findings “”provide evidence that harsh physical punishment independent of child maltreatment is related to mental disorders.”