Late onset alcoholism (Type 1) and early onset alcoholism (Type II) have both been linked to childhood abuse. Men and women also have been shown to be equally susceptible to alcohol dependency if they were raised in a home with an alcoholic parent or caregiver. The genetic risk factor for alcohol dependence has been clearly established, but understanding if abuse suffered during childhood is a separate risk factor, independent of family history, or a risk factor created directly as a result of living with an alcohol-dependent parent has yet to be determined. To shed more light on this subject, A. Magnusson of the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, conducted a study that looked at how genetics and childhood abuse affected the development of Type I and Type II alcoholism in men and women.
For the study, Magnusson evaluated interviews from more than 24,000 Swedish adult twins and analyzed them for childhood sexual and physical abuse, family history of alcoholism, and alcohol dependence. The study revealed that nearly 5% of all the women and over 8% of all the men had a history of alcohol dependence. The rate of genetic risk was over 50% and was similar in both the male and female participants. However, the women showed more Type I alcohol dependence than the men. The findings also demonstrated that childhood sexual abuse was directly linked to higher rates of early onset (Type II) alcohol dependence, especially in the women.
Further, the results were specifically analyzed to determine if the abuse suffered by the women was an independent risk factor for alcohol dependence or was a risk factor resulting from being raised in an environment with alcoholism. After assessing the risks individually, Magnusson discovered that although genetics did increase the risk for alcohol dependence, childhood sexual abuse was clearly its own risk factor for early onset alcoholism in women. Magnusson said, “Because sexual abuse was a significant risk factor for alcohol dependence in the co-twin control analysis, we found evidence for a direct association between this form of childhood trauma and alcohol dependence, independent of other forms of shared childhood environment or genetic background factors.” Overall, the findings suggest that there are several similar risk factors for alcohol dependence in men and women. But girls who have survived childhood sexual abuse are more vulnerable to developing a problem with alcohol at a young age, especially if they have been raised in an alcoholic home. Understanding this dynamic could help therapists better address the relationship between a client’s addiction and traumatic history.
Magnusson, A., Lundholm, C., Göransson, M., Copeland, W., Heilig, M., Pedersen, N. L. (2012). Familial influence and childhood trauma in female alcoholism. Psychological Assessment, 42.3, 381-389.
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