Alcoholics Often Had Traumatic Childhood

Alcoholics likely to have been emotionally abused as children

(RxWiki News) There are many reasons that a person may begin drinking heavily. Stress, depression, and mental health are all factors. One of the biggest reasons may be a traumatic experience or abuse during childhood.

Previous studies have suggested that alcoholics are much more likely to have been physically or sexually abused as children. New research adds that emotional abuse and neglect may be equally important factors.

"Get professional help if you suspect child abuse."

Markus Heilig, M.D., Ph.D., of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, explains the difficulties in understanding emotional abuse. "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 previous studies found that 24 percent of men and 33 percent of women in an alcohol rehab program had experienced physical abuse as a child. Twelve percent of men and 49 percent of women in rehab experienced sexual abuse.

In the general population, the rates are 8.4 percent for physical abuse and 6.0 percent for sexual abuse.

“Many recent studies have linked childhood emotional abuse and neglect to the same long-term consequences as physical and sexual abuse, such as increased rates of depression, anxiety, and even suicide," continues Heilig.

The team wanted to more deeply explore the possible link between alcoholism and emotional trauma.

They interviewed 196 alcoholic inpatients (132 men, 62 women) and also used the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire to assess child abuse situations. The questionnaire looks at the five types of abuse or neglect: sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect.

The team found that the patients being treated for alcoholism were likely to have experienced emotional abuse or neglect. Additionally, emotional abuse and neglect were linked to a higher likelihood of developing other anxiety disorders and depression.

"Our findings demonstrate that childhood emotional abuse is nearly as prevalent among alcoholic patients as physical and sexual abuse," said Heilig, "which is important because it helps to show that emotionally abused children, like those that have been physically or sexually abused, can develop behavioral and other health problems in adulthood.”

The study will be published in the June 2012 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research and was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 

Review Date: 
March 14, 2012