New research finds maltreated children three times more likely to suffer from substance use disorder

New research finds that people who are maltreated as children are three times more likely to be hospitalized for substance use disorder by the age of 40. 

The study, published in the journal Addiction, compared data from more than 6,000 children born at a hospital in Brisbane, Australia from 1981 to 1983. Ten percent of the children suffered recorded maltreatment by the age of 15.

“For the purposes of this study, maltreatment was defined as physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse or neglect up to the age of 15, as reported to the department,” Dr. Claudia Bull, who led the study, said in a press release.

Dr. Bull noted that prior research examining childhood adversity and alcohol and substance use disorders had predominantly concentrated on cases of physical and sexual abuse.

“But we particularly wanted to know whether emotional abuse and neglect were as strongly associated with subsequent alcohol and substance use disorders,” Bull said. “And we found they were.”  

Those with substantiated notifications for sexual abuse before the age of 16 faced the highest likelihood (3.48 times more likely) of hospital admission for alcohol use disorder, while those with agency-reported notifications for emotional abuse faced the highest likelihood (3.10 times more likely) for substance use disorder.

“It means no matter what kind of abuse children face – physical, sexual or emotional – they are roughly three times as likely to suffer from alcohol and substance use disorders later in life,” Professor Kisely said.