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Alcohol Abuse as a Risk Factor for and Consequence of Child Abuse

NCJ Number
Alcohol Research & Health Volume: 25 Issue: 1 Dated: 2001 Pages: 52-57
Date Published
6 pages

After reviewing studies that have assessed the alcohol-related and non-alcohol-related factors that might contribute to parental child abuse, this article presents more conclusive research findings regarding the relationship between childhood victimization, particularly childhood abuse and neglect among women, and subsequent adult alcohol abuse.


On the assumption that there is a relationship between parental alcohol problems and child abuse, researchers have begun to speculate about some of the possible mechanisms that link these problems. Miller et al. (1997) have suggested the following possible mechanisms: cognitive disorganization, leading to poor parent-child bonding, overestimation of perceived threats, and underestimation of the consequences of violence; deviance disavowal, which involves blaming alcohol for abusive behavior rather than addressing underlying problems; and disinhibition, which involves the diminishment of controls over behavior. Several studies have identified low socioeconomic status as a factor that contributes to child maltreatment, and it may also contribute to parental alcohol abuse. A stressful relationship between parents can also markedly increase the risk of child abuse, and such stress can contribute to alcohol abuse. Further, an abusing parent's own personal history of childhood abuse may be a factor in child abuse; and, as is discussed in the second part of this article, may contribute to adult alcohol abuse. Studies that have used various types of samples found that women who had experienced childhood maltreatment were more likely to have alcohol problems as adults than other women; however, too few studies have investigated the relationship between childhood victimization and adult alcohol use among men to permit firm conclusions, but the evidence thus far indicates that child abuse and neglect is not an independent risk factor for subsequent alcohol problems in men. Further research is needed. Once the mechanisms that underlie the relationship between child abuse and adult alcohol abuse are better understood, clinicians, social workers, and other interested groups can use that knowledge to intervene with the victims of child abuse and help prevent subsequent alcohol problems in those victims. 25 references

Date Published: January 1, 2001