Researchers looked at the link between psychological problems and physical punishment and found that adults who were hit when they were kids had a higher risk of developing problems such as mood and anxiety disorders, and problems with alcohol and drug abuse.
The increase in mental disorders among those who were hit or physically punished as children was seen even in families where no family dysfunction or clear evidence of parental mental illness was reported, suggesting that the higher risk of psychiatric woes was not necessarily genetically inherited.
Even those who reported harsh physical punishment on a 'sometimes' basis were at elevated risk of developing psychiatric disease in adulthood.
And boys and girls who experienced such physical punishment were equally likely to suffer mental illness as adults.
Those who were hit as children were between two and seven per cent more likely to encounter mental issues later, according to the study from the University of Manitoba in Canada.
The figure may seem low as around half of the US population recalls being spanked in childhood.
However, experts said it still shows physical punishment can raise the risk of problems later on.
Previous research has repeatedly shown that children who were physically abused as youngsters suffer from more mental disturbances as adults, and are more likely to engage in aggressive behaviour than kids who were not hit. But these studies have typically included more serious abuse.
The latest study, published in the US journal Pediatrics, was based on a retrospective survey of more than 600 US adults.
Researchers stressed that the study could not establish that spanking had actually caused mental disorders in certain adults, only that there was a link between memories of such punishment and a higher incidence of mental problems.
Roya Samuels, a pediatrician at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New York, said the parents' genes may influence both their response to raising an unruly child as well as their likelihood of passing down certain ailments.
"Parents who are resorting to mechanisms of corporal punishment might themselves be at risk for depression and mental disorders; therefore, there might be a hereditary factor going on in these families," she said.
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