Childhood Sexual Abuse Linked to Early Onset Alcoholism in Women

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.

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Jamie R

    March 14th, 2012 at 10:37 AM

    I can see how easy ot would be to turn to something like drinking to help you avoid awful childhood memories like that. How could I ever even cope with this happening to me as a child? I would want to do anything that I could to block it all out and not have to think about it. Drinking is a pretty easy way to do that. On the downside then you not only have all of these painful memories to come to terms with but then you have a drinking problem too. A CLEAR example that 2 wrongs never add up to make a right.

  • Ginger

    March 14th, 2012 at 11:15 AM

    If we find it hard to outsmart genetics then it might be even harder to outrun or downplay the effects that abuse has on us.

  • astle

    March 15th, 2012 at 12:21 AM

    it’s not just about the abuse is it?it is abuse and everything else that goes with it.the conditions at home and the parents’ behavior and family structure.everythig comes together and does what it does!

  • ReeRee

    March 15th, 2012 at 2:59 PM

    These women would have to be strong women to survive all of this. They have had to endure a whole lot of pain in their lives, with the drinking not making it one bit better. They use it to cover up and to hide, but look how that turns out for them. Shame on families who subject their children to this!

  • Kids Under the Influence

    October 16th, 2012 at 4:54 AM

    I agree that children dont at all deserve to be subjected to their mother being dependent on drinking. However if the study has found that women who have been sexually abused as a child or grew up in an alcoholic home; then i think we need to adress these issues so that we can prevent them from turning on alcohol. Subjecting them to shame will be in effective, they need to instead be supported and be aware that this behaviour is dangerous for their children and that they would never want to subject trauma to their children the way that they had experienced. I think support and education is paramount for these mothers, so that we can try and prevent alcoholic dependent parents.

  • Ralp Ubod

    May 3rd, 2013 at 12:59 AM

    These women would need to be strong women to outlive all this. They’ve needed to endure a great deal of discomfort within their lives, using the consuming not which makes it one bit better.

  • Paula M

    February 4th, 2016 at 5:19 AM

    I have been a victim of early adolescent sexual abuse and I became alcohol dependant. I have been through ten years of psychotherapy and still ongoing. I have self actualised and I am now a survivor of sexual trauma. Words cannot really describe my daughter’s, my husband’s and my own distress but I can tell you that Sex abuse is evil on earth. I have finally reported my abuse to the authorities in the hope that they can get a good understanding of my type of abuse and what it can do to a woman. I sincerely wish that I can make a difference in our progress and evolution for a better place that we live in together.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.