The Connection between Childhood Maltreatment and Alcohol Use Disorder

Abuse experienced in childhood can affect individuals far beyond the immediate effects of physical harm. Psychological wounds caused by physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and physical or emotional neglect affect children into their adult lives. Abuse during childhood can create a higher risk of alcohol use disorder later in life.

While scientists have previously demonstrated an association between childhood maltreatment and problems with alcohol and its consequences (Bensley, Spieker, Van Eenywk & Schoder, 1999), the motivational mechanisms behind the connection have not been identified. In 2010, researchers examined the reasons behind men and women who have a history of childhood maltreatment and also abuse alcohol (Goldstein, Flett & Wekerle, 2010).

The researchers recruited 86 male and 132 female undergraduate students. They were asked about instances of childhood maltreatment using the 28-item Childhood Trauma Questionnaire. They were also assessed for drinking motives, using the 28-item Modified Drinking Motives Questionnaire-Revised. Alcohol consumption and resulting consequences were measured using the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test.

The researchers built models to determine which drinking motives mediated the effect of childhood maltreatment on alcohol problems. Separate models were built for men and women.

The results showed that about half of the male students and about a quarter of the female students were participating in binge drinking on a monthly basis or more. 31 percent of the participants reported a history of abuse and 30 percent of the participants reported a history of neglect. There was a significant association found between abuse or neglect and having alcohol problems.

When it came to male students, the association between maltreatment and alcohol problems was mediated by a motive “to feel good and get happy.” For women, the mediator was the desire to cope with depression and anxiety.

The study’s results are limited by the use of a student-based sample. The results may not be applicable to other populations. Given the prevalence of alcohol-based social activity in college, the behaviors of the participants may be due to other factors than examined. In addition, the study was not designed to determine causality.

Further research is necessary to determine a causal relationship between maltreatment in childhood and drinking in adulthood. A longitudinal study would be more effective at establishing the connection between these two factors. In addition, a larger sample would be effective at determining whether the results were affected by the use of college students as subjects.

Posted on September 8th, 2010

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