Academic journal article Alcohol Research

Alcohol Abuse as Risk Factor for and Consequence of Child Abuse

Academic journal article Alcohol Research

Alcohol Abuse as Risk Factor for and Consequence of Child Abuse

Article excerpt

The relationship between child abuse and the use or abuse of alcohol has two aspects. First, some findings have indicated that parental alcohol abuse may be associated with the physical or sexual abuse of children. Research findings in this area remain inconsistent, however. Second, the experience of being abused as a child may increase a person's risk for alcoholrelated problems as an adult. This relationship has best been demonstrated in women who had been victims of childhood abuse. Several factors most likely contribute to or influence this relationship, including coping skills; antisocial behavior; and psychological problems, such as posttraumatic stress disorder. KEY WORDS: child abuse; AOD (alcohol or other drug) abuse; risk factors; family AODU (AOD use, abuse, and dependence) history; family dysfunction; marital conflict; sexual abuse; coping; antisocial behavior; posttraumatic stress disorder

According to research estimates, each year more than I million children in the United States experience some form of abuse or neglect (Widom 1993). Child abuse is one of the many types of violence associated with alcohol use and abuse, either as a consequence or as a causative factor. For example, parental alcohol abuse may contribute to the abusive treatment of children. Furthermore, people who have been abused as children may be at increased risk for developing alcohol abuse as adults.

Child abuse manifests in various forms, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and emotional or psychological abuse (Widom 1989). Physical abuse refers to all types of maltreatment that result in physical injuries, such as bruises, welts, burns, abrasions, lacerations, cuts, or fractures. Sexual abuse also can encompass a variety of abusive behaviors, ranging from fondling or touching to sodomy, incest, or rape. Neglect is defined as any situation in which a child receives no care by a parent or other primary caregiver or receives care that is below acceptable community or professional standards (e.g., fails to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical attention). Emotional and psychological abuse, which may occur in conjunction with the other types of abuse previously mentioned, also can have profound long-term consequences for the child. Because this last type of abuse is difficult to define and identify, however, most research does not explicitly include emotional abuse in child abuse studies. Furthermore, few studies have investigated specifically the relationship between child neglect and alcohol use.

The first part of this article reviews studies assessing the alcohol-related and non-alcohol-related factors that might contribute to parental child abuse, although these studies have produced inconsistent findings.

The second part of this article includes more conclusive research findings concerning the relationship between childhood victimization, particularly childhood abuse and neglect among women, and subsequent adult alcohol abuse. Within this discussion, the article explores how future research may identify further characteristics that could increase a person's risk for developing alcohol abuse as a consequence of childhood victimization.


Researchers have suggested that numerous factors play a role in parental child abuse. Some factors directly relate to parental alcohol abuse, whereas other factors do not-or only do indirectly.

Physical Abuse. Although many people might intuitively assume that parental alcohol use and abuse contributes to child abuse, research in this area frequently has produced inconsistent results (Widom 1993). For example, some early studies on the relationship between parental alcohol abuse and parental perpetration of physical child abuse found only modest associations (see Miller et al. 1997). Other studies detected either no associations or associations limited to certain subgroups of alcohol-- using parents (see Miller et al. …

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