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Long-Term Effects of Child Abuse and Neglect on Alcohol Use and Excessive Drinking in Middle Adulthood

Cathy Spatz Widom, Helene Raskin White, Sally J. Czaja, Naomi R. Marmorstein

Objective: The purpose of this study was to determine the long-term effects of child abuse and neglect on alcohol use in middle adulthood. Method: Individuals with documented cases of childhood physical and sexual abuse and/or neglect (n 500) and matched controls (n 396) from a metropolitan county in the Midwest were followed and interviewed in middle adulthood. Outcomes were Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition, Revised, diagnoses of alcohol abuse or dependence in young adulthood (age 29) and excessive drinking in middle adulthood (age 40). Results: Women with documented histories of child abuse or neglect reported higher past-year typical quantity (p < .01) and past-month number of days drinking eight or more drinks (p < .05) than nonabused/nonneglected women. Controlling for parental alcohol/drug problems, the effect of child maltreatment on excessive drinking in middle adulthood was not significant for women. For women, the final structural equation model revealed an indirect path through alcohol diagnosis in young adulthood (p < .05) to excessive drinking in middle adulthood (p < .001) but no direct path from child abuse and neglect to excessive drinking in middle adulthood. For men, there were no significant paths from child abuse and neglect to alcohol diagnosis in young adulthood or excessive drinking in middle adulthood. For men and women, parental alcohol/drug problems had a significant indirect effect on the offspring's drinking in middle adulthood (p < .001) through young adult alcohol diagnosis (p < .001). Conclusions: Consequences of abuse and neglect persist into middle adulthood for women, through continuation of earlier alcohol problems, suggesting the need for interventions throughout the life course. The influence of parental alcohol and drug problems warrants further attention. (J. Stud. Alcohol Drugs 68: 317-326, 2007)