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Combined role of childhood maltreatment, family history, and gender in the risk for alcohol dependence

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 August 2012

M. C. Fenton
Mailman School of Public Health, Department of Epidemiology, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA
T. Geier
University of Wisconsin, Department of Psychology, Milwaukee, WI, USA New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, NY, USA
K. Keyes
Mailman School of Public Health, Department of Epidemiology, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, NY, USA
A. E. Skodol
New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, NY, USA College of Physicians and Surgeons, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson, AZ, USA
B. F. Grant
Intramural Laboratory of Epidemiology and Biometry, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Rockville, MD, USA
D. S. Hasin*
Mailman School of Public Health, Department of Epidemiology, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, NY, USA College of Physicians and Surgeons, Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA
*Address for correspondence: D. S. Hasin, Ph.D., Professor of Clinical Epidemiology (in Psychiatry), Columbia University, College of Physicians & Surgeons, 1051 Riverside Drive #123, New York, NY 10032, USA. (Email:



Studies of the relationship between childhood maltreatment and alcohol dependence have not controlled comprehensively for potential confounding by co-occurring maltreatments and other childhood trauma, or determined whether parental history of alcohol disorders operates synergistically with gender and maltreatment to produce alcohol dependence. We addressed these issues using national data.


Face-to-face surveys of 27 712 adult participants in a national survey.


Childhood physical, emotional and sexual abuse, and physical neglect were associated with alcohol dependence (p<0.001), controlling for demographics, co-occurring maltreatments and other childhood trauma. Attributable proportions (APs) due to interaction between each maltreatment and parental history revealed significant synergistic relationships for physical abuse in the entire sample, and for sexual abuse and emotional neglect in women (APs, 0.21, 0.31, 0.26 respectively), indicating that the odds of alcohol dependence given both parental history and these maltreatments were significantly higher than the additive effect of each alone (p<0.05).


Childhood maltreatments independently increased the risk of alcohol dependence. Importantly, results suggest a synergistic role of parental alcoholism: the effect of physical abuse on alcohol dependence may depend on parental history, while the effects of sexual abuse and emotional neglect may depend on parental history among women. Findings underscore the importance of early identification and prevention, particularly among those with a family history, and could guide genetic research and intervention development, e.g. programs to reduce the burden of childhood maltreatment may benefit from addressing the negative long-term effects of maltreatments, including potential alcohol problems, across a broad range of childhood environments.

Original Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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