Magazine article Science News

Assaults May Amplify Female Alcoholism

Magazine article Science News

Assaults May Amplify Female Alcoholism

Article excerpt

Psychological stress caused by rape and other violent attacks influences importantly the emergence of alcoholism in women, according to a new study.

"A vicious cycle apparently starts with being a physical-assault victim," asserts psychologist Dean G. Kilpatrick, director of the National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. "Assault increases women's risk of violence-related stress, which increases their risk of alcohol and substance abuse, which increases their risk of being assaulted again."

Kilpatrick urges screening female alcohol abusers for past assaults and the presence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a cluster of symptoms that includes nightmares, inability to concentrate, and intrusive thoughts about a traumatic event. Treating an assault victim's PTSD may lessen her alcohol dependence, he theorized at the annual meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism in Maui, Hawaii, last week.

Kilpatrick and his coworkers analyzed data from a national survey of 4,008 women, half between the ages of 18 and 34. Trained female interviewers randomly telephoned households containing at least one adult female. Three-quarters of the participants were interviewed 1 and 2 years later; most of the rest were reinterviewed once.

Each interview lasted about 35 minutes and included questions about exposure to violent assaults (rapes or attacks intended to kill or seriously injure the victim), current and past PTSD, and alcohol and illicit drug use. Initial interviews also covered family history of substance abuse and the tendency to seek out exciting and intense experiences (dubbed "sensation seeking").

In the first interview, about 1 in 8 women reported a prior rape and 1 in 10 cited other violent attacks. …

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