• June/July 2003
  • Vol. 4, No. 5

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Study Identifies Link Between Childhood Abuse and Drug Abuse in Adulthood

A recent article in the journal Pediatrics shows a strong link between negative childhood experiences and illicit drug use later in life. Findings from the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study indicate the more negative events people experience during their childhood (e.g., abuse, parental incarceration, domestic violence), the more likely they are to initiate drug use at an early age, have drug problems, be addicted to drugs, or use intravenous drugs in adulthood. The results speak directly to the need for, and benefits of, efforts to prevent child maltreatment.

Originally initiated in the late 1980s as a study of the relationship between adult obesity and childhood abuse, the ACE study examines the relationship between a variety of adverse experiences in childhood and health problems later in life. Researchers at Kaiser Permanente San Diego and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified eight categories of adverse childhood experiences: physical abuse; emotional abuse; sexual abuse; alcohol or substance abuse in the household; a household member who was incarcerated; a household member who was chronically depressed, mentally ill, or suicidal; domestic violence; or parents who were separated, divorced, or in some way lost to the patient during childhood.

In previous analyses of the ACE data, these experiences also were shown to be associated with higher rates of:

  • Smoking
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Alcoholism
  • Hepatitis
  • Fractures
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Occupational health problems
  • Poor job performance

An abstract of this article can be obtained at www.pediatrics.org/cgi/content/abstract/111/3/564. A description of the ACE study and a selected list of study publications can be found in the Winter 2002 issue of The Permanente Journal, at http://xnet.kp.org/permanentejournal/winter02/goldtolead.html.

Related Item

Read more about the ACE study in "Abused Boys and Sons of Battered Mothers More Likely to Be Involved in Teen Pregnancies" in the May/June 2001 issue of Children's Bureau Express.

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