Using data from a large project on child abuse and neglect as predictors of violent criminal behavior, researchers investigated the connection between childhood maltreatment and later arrest for alcohol and drug-related offenses.
The child abuse cases (physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect) included in this study were brought to the attention of authorities and validated by the court. Seventy-two percent of the children who were abused or neglected as preschoolers were matched with controls on the basis of gender, race, date of birth, and hospital of birth through the use of county birth record information. After controlling for age, gender, and race, child maltreatment was found to be a significant predictor of delinquency. Being abused and/or neglected increased the odds of being arrested as a juvenile; however, the relationship between childhood victimization and juvenile arrests for alcohol and/or drugs was not significant. After controlling for demographic characteristics and juvenile contact with the criminal justice system, childhood abuse and/or neglect was found to be a statistically significant predictor of having at least one alcohol-related or drug-related arrest in adulthood. The odds of being arrested for at least one such offense were 39 percent greater for maltreated children than for control subjects. More research is needed to further analyze the relationships between childhood maltreatment and later alcohol or drug abuse, but intervention efforts should recognize that childhood victims, especially females, may be at increased risk of developing alcohol and drug problems as they mature.
Date Published: November 1, 1995