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Abuse in Childhood, Domestic Violence in Adulthood Prime Victims for Substance Abuse

The combination of childhood maltreatment and intimate partner violence exposure during adulthood substantially increase risks for the onset of substance use disorder (diagnosable substance abuse/addiction), new findings from a group of U.S. researchers indicate.Child maltreatment and intimate partner violence (IPV) are two relatively common sources of emotional trauma exposure in the U.S. and many other countries. In a study published in January 2015 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from Columbia University examined the effect that the combined experience of child maltreatment and IPV exposure has on the chances that an adult man or woman will develop an alcohol- or drug-related case of substance use disorder. The researchers concluded that the two forms of trauma have an additive impact on the risks for diagnosable substance problems.

Child Maltreatment

The concept of child maltreatment encompasses acts of abuse toward a minor child, as well as acts of neglect (sometimes known as abuse by omission). In the U.S., the legal definition of child abuse includes intentional or unintentional injury of a child through physical violence, intentional or unintentional involvement of a child in sexual abuse (including exposing a child to adult sexual conduct) and intentional or unintentional mental injury of a child through taunting, threatening or other forms of psychological violence. Child neglect includes the intentional or unintentional withholding of actions needed to meet the emotional, physical, educational or material needs of a child, as well as a lack of reasonable child oversight or a failure to otherwise adequately protect a child from dangerous surroundings.

Roughly 14 percent of American children experience at least one form of maltreatment, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report (although actual figures may be much higher). In addition to the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), potential short- or long-term consequences of being mistreated during childhood include increased chances of dying at a relatively young age, delayed physical or psychological development, developing a mental health condition called conduct disorder, developing any one of a range of mental health conditions called anxiety disorders and experiencing physical health problems such as obesity and heart disease. In addition, victims of child maltreatment have increased chances of developing serious substance problems.

Intimate Partner Violence (Domestic Violence)

By definition, intimate partner violence (formerly known by the more restrictive term domestic violence) involves acts of violence within the context of a current or previous marriage or partnership, whether or not the parties involved have an active sexual relationship. In many respects, the general types of violence found in cases of IPV mirror the types of physical, sexual and emotional violence associated with the commission of child maltreatment. The assaults typical of intimate partner violence are known to increase the odds that an adult will develop PTSD, as well as substance problems and a range of other physical and mental health issues.

Combined Impact on Substance Use Disorder

In the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, the Columbia University researchers used data from a project called the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) to gauge the effect that the combined life experience of child maltreatment and intimate partner violence has on the odds that an adult man or woman will meet the terms used to diagnose substance use disorder. NESARC was a large-scale, nationally representative undertaking conducted by researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in the first decade of the 21st century. The researchers in the current study looked at information originally gathered from 34,653 NESARC participants in 2004 and 2005. Almost one-third of the study participants (32 percent) reported a history of child maltreatment. Six percent of the participants were exposed to some form of intimate partner violence in the previous 365 days; in addition, roughly one in 10 participants (11 percent) reported problems with substance use disorder in the previous 365 days.

The researchers concluded that, on its own, a history of child maltreatment substantially increases the odds that an adult will be exposed to intimate partner violence or develop diagnosable substance problems. They also concluded than an independent history of IPV substantially increases the risks for developing substance-related issues. In addition, the researchers concluded that a history of both child maltreatment and IPV boosts the risks for substance use disorder much more than child maltreatment alone or IPV alone. While the increased risk affects both men and women, women with a combined history of the two sources of emotional trauma are substantially more likely to experience diagnosable drug or alcohol problems than their male counterparts.

Posted on May 6th, 2015

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