Childhood maltreatment has long been proven as a risk factor for numerous negative outcomes, including aggression, depression, anxiety, fear, attachment issues, psychosis, posttraumatic stress, and substance use. Alcohol dependency has been linked to various forms of childhood maltreatment and is especially high in those with a family history of alcohol dependency. But few studies have sought to examine how family history of alcohol use increases risk of dependency when combined with individual types of maltreatment. Even fewer studies have explored each form of childhood maltreatment with respect to gender to ascertain the effect on risk of alcohol dependency.
In an effort to accomplish this, M.C. Fenton of the Mailman School of Public Health and the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia University in New York, recently examined interviews from over 27,000 adult participants who took part in a national survey. The interviews asked about forms of childhood maltreatment, family history of alcohol dependency and individual alcohol use.
The results revealed a link between physical abuse and alcohol dependency, especially in those with a family history of alcohol abuse. Childhood emotional abuse was a significant risk factor for alcohol dependency in women, and particularly relevant in those with a family history of alcohol use. Also, women with genetic vulnerability to alcohol dependency were at extremely high risk of alcohol abuse if they had experienced childhood sexual abuse.
These findings untangle the relationship between childhood maltreatment and alcohol dependency, showing that different forms of abuse and maltreatment work in different ways to affect later dependency and that gender also plays a role in this relationship. Fenton also looked at other forms of childhood adversity and maltreatment and did not find any direct effect on alcohol dependency, regardless of whether there was a family history of alcohol use or not. “In summary,” added Fenton, “Sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and physical neglect independently increased the risk of alcohol dependence, underscoring the importance of early identification and prevention.”
Fenton, M. C., et al. (2013). Combined Role of Childhood Maltreatment, Family History, and Gender in the Risk for Alcohol Dependence. Psychological Medicine 43.5 (2013): 1045-57. ProQuest. Web.
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