Childhood adversity and behavioural addictions: the mediating role of emotion dysregulation and depression in an adult community sample

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) increase developmental vulnerabilities for adult psychopathology, and behavioural addictions in particular. However, our understanding of the common psychological mechanisms underlying various behavioural addictions is currently limited. The present study explores self-report emotion dysregulation and depression severity as candidate transdiagnostic processes for addictions known to be related to ACEs such as gambling, food, and internet (social media) use. A large community sample of working adults (n = 1,231) was surveyed online. Validated self-report assessments of gambling, food, and social media addiction severity were administered. The study found that cumulative ACEs were linked to clinical symptoms of gambling, food, and social media addiction through the mediator of emotion dysregulation. Specific emotion dysregulation mechanisms common to gambling, food, and social media addictions include poor control of impulses when upset, and poor clarity about emotions. Additionally, emotion dysregulation and depression serially mediated the association between ACEs, and food and social media addiction severity. The study specifies emotion- and mood-related clinical targets for clinical assessments and interventions that could benefit adults with a history of ACEs.