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Child Sexual and Physical Abuse and Alcoholism: A Review

Willie Langeland, Christina Hartgers

Objective: To examine possible relations between child sexual or physical abuse and adult alcoholism. Method: Studies reviewed included prospective studies, retrospective studies on the prevalence of child sexual or physical abuse in alcoholics and nonalcoholics, and retrospective studies in mental health clients and in population samples comparing the prevalence of alcohol use disorders in abused and nonabused subjects. Results: Prospective studies do not indicate a significant association between child sexual or physical abuse and alcoholism. In contrast, studies among alcoholic women do suggest a relationship. Also, a significantly higher prevalence of alcohol problems in abused women than in nonabused women is found in population samples. The results of studies among mental health clients are inconclusive. In addition, several methodological limitations should be taken into consideration when evaluating results of the available studies. Conclusions: Current evidence is insufficient to draw conclusions about relationships between child sexual or physical abuse and alcoholism among men. Among females, however, there is a higher likelihood of alcohol problems if they were sexually or physically abused as children. (J. Stud. Alcohol 59: 336-348, 1998)