Child Abuse Linked to Adult Substance Abuse and Emotional Problems

Child Abuse Linked to Adult Substance Abuse and Emotional Problems

While surely everyone would agree that childhood abuse and/or neglect are serious issues which require some sort of intervention, there is relatively little data which reveals what outcomes may be expected when interventions do not happen or are not effective. A study conducted by social welfare experts through Washington University in St. Louis, attempted to gather this kind of data by following up to see how repeated incidents/reports of child mistreatment impacted the child’s life during adolescence and childhood.

The researchers divided children into categories according to the number of incident reports on record. Children with no such reports were considered the control group while other groups separated children by one, two, three and four or more reports of abuse or neglect.

The team used adolescent outcomes like substance abuse, contracting an STD (sexually transmitted disease) and delinquency as markers. The research revealed that greater numbers of reported abuses in childhood correlated strongly to more negative outcomes during adolescence. According to the study, a single report resulted in a 20 to 50 percent increase in the likelihood of such outcomes compared to children who had zero report histories.

The team then controlled for adolescent outcomes and tracked adult outcomes. Negative adult behaviors used to measure outcomes included abusing substances and repeating the cycle of abuse and neglect with their own children. Again, the connection between the frequency of childhood mistreatment and negative adult behaviors was strong.

Children who had been the victim of four or more reports were two times more apt to mistreat their own child/children. They were also that much more likely to have interacted in some fashion with mental health providers.

The Washington University study cited data from the nation’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which estimated the lifetime costs associated with mistreated children from just one year to be around $242 billion. That is a staggering figure and one which could conceivably be reduced if prevention and intervention were more successful. How those costs may multiply with a child who is the victim of repeated incidents is uncertain. Of course, the dollar amount pales in comparison to the cost in terms of human suffering over a lifetime.

Researchers involved with this study are hopeful that when the facts are known and the high costs of failure are taken into account, that more research and effort will be set aside toward preventing childhood mistreatment and improving interventions when it does occur.

The study clearly supports the importance of such efforts since children who have been the victims of abuse and neglect have been shown to struggle with appropriate social behaviors and relational functioning. Childhood neglect and abuse are predictive of negative adolescent outcomes which are, in turn, predictive of negative adult outcomes.

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