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Child Abuse Leads to Alcohol Abuse

People with alcohol problems are far likelier than the average to have been physically or sexually abused as children, a new study confirms.

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Half of the women surveyed were sexually
abused as children. Photo via

By Chrisanne Grise

03/16/12

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Abused children face a higher risk of becoming alcoholics later in life, confirms a new study just released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Childhood trauma, which can include physical, sexual and emotional abuse or neglect, has long been considered a risk factor for alcohol addiction. But this study asserts just how powerful an influence it could be. Researchers surveyed 196 people who were undergoing treatment for alcohol dependence. They found that about one quarter of the men and one third of the women reported a history of childhood physical abuse. In addition, a startling 49% of the women had been sexually abused during their youth, along with 12% of the men. Comparatively, a recent national survey among the general population found that about 8% faced physical abuse as children, and 6% experienced sexual abuse during childhood. Childhood abuse also leads to increased risks of suicide and several psychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. The proportion of alcoholics abused as children might jump significantly if emotional abuse and neglect were included. But as clinical director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse Markus Heilig notes, "Because emotional abuse is difficult to define, and is greatly under-reported compared to physical and sexual abuse, true rates of emotional abuse are unknown." The new study's findings underline the importance of trauma assessment in understanding and treating alcohol addictions.

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