Children whose families move around a lot may be at increased risk for psychological problems and substance use later in life, according to a new study.
In the study, children in Scotland who moved three or more times were more likely to have psychological distress, drinking heavily, smoking and use illegal drugs in adolescence and adulthood.
These effects may not be due to moving itself, but to factors that come with moving, according to the study. Many of the links observed in the study were due, in part, to changing schools, which may disrupt family life and social networks more than a move to a new house alone, the researchers said.
However, frequent moves were associated with an increased risk of drug use in adolescents and adulthood, regardless of how often they changed schools.
The findings are based on a study of 850 children who were followed for a 20-year period, from 1987 to 2007. Participants underwent a physical exam, which assessed their physical health by examining factors such as blood pressure and lung function, and also answered questions to assess their mental health and substance use.
Twenty percent of participants had lived at the same address throughout childhood; 59 percent had moved once or twice; and 21 percent had moved at least three times.
Those in single-parent or stepparent households, and those with two or three siblings, were significantly more likely to move. But those with at least four siblings were more likely to stay put during childhood.
There was no association between the number of moves and physical health measures.
However, those who moved three or more times were 2.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs than those who had never moved. And those who moved once or twice were 1.6 times more likely to experience psychological distress.
The researchers noted that for some, moving can be a positive experience that leads to improved family circumstances, and negative effects can be reduced given the appropriate support.
"[C]hildren are more likely to be negatively affected when families move because of disruption or financial problems rather than to seek better schools or employment opportunities," the researchers wrote in the Journalof Epidemiology and Community Health.
The study was conducted by researchers at the Social and Public Health Science Unit of Glasgow, Scotland.