The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Child Maltreatment, Impulsivity, and Alcohol Use in Young Adulthood

Sunday, January 19, 2014: 8:45 AM
Marriott Riverwalk, Alamo Ballroom Salon F, 2nd Floor Elevator Level BR (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Sunny H. Shin, PhD, Associate Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
Sungkyu Lee, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Knoxville, TN
Sae-Mi Jeon, MA, Doctoral Student, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
Thomas A. Wills, PhD, Professor, University of Hawai`i, Honolulu, HI
Purpose: Childhood emotional abuse has been linked to problematic alcohol use in later life by increasing an individual’s risk for alcohol problems in adulthood (Chamberland, 2011; Moran, 2004; Widom & White, 1997). While empirical evidence supporting this relationship is emerging, there is a critical gap in our understanding of the mechanisms that explain the associations between emotional abuse and alcohol use in young adulthood. In recent years, alcohol research has given increasing attention to the role of personality traits for onset and escalation of alcohol use. Several personality traits have been identified as risk factors for alcohol use in young adulthood, including urgent and impulsive personality (Cloninger et al., 1988; Lejuez et al., 2010; Sher & Trull, 1994). In addition, a substantial body of literature suggests that experience of childhood maltreatment predicts the development of less adaptive personality traits, including urgent personality trait (Cicchetti and Rogosch, 2007; Johnson et al., 2001; Kim et al., 2009; Rogosch and Cicchetti, 2004). Taken together, these findings suggest that personality traits may play an important role in the pathway from emotional abuse to alcohol use.  The present study examined the role of urgent personality trait in linking childhood emotional abuse to alcohol problems in young adulthood.

Methods: Data for the present study were collected from 268 young people aged 18-25 in the community (mean age=21.9 years; SD = 2.1 years; range 18-25).  Slightly more than half were female (51.9%); 57.5% were enrolled in college; and the majority of participants were White (64.6%). Childhood emotional abuse was carefully evaluated using a computer-assisted self-interviewing (CASI) method of the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ; Bernstein et al., 1994; Fink et al., 1995). Using the community sample of young individuals, we performed structural equation modeling to investigate whether emotional abuse influences alcohol use through urgency and to determine pathways for these effects in a multivariate context. We also examined variations in these pathways by four different alcohol use outcomes including frequency of alcohol use, binge drinking, alcohol-related problems, and alcohol use disorders (AUD).

Results: In four separate models, we found that emotional abuse was related to the urgent personality trait, which in turn influenced all four types of alcohol use. A test of indirect effects of emotional abuse on alcohol use found that these relationships were partially mediated by urgency (β = .07 for binge drinking; β = .07 for alcohol-related problems; β = .08 for AUD), except for frequency of alcohol use (β= .03). All of our analyses controlled for common risk factors for urgency and alcohol use, including other types of childhood maltreatment (i.e., neglect, physical and sexual abuse), psychological distress, parental alcoholism, and peer alcohol use.

Implications: Personality trait of urgency may play a significant role in linking childhood emotional abuse to alcohol use in young adulthood. We found that urgent personality trait would be a potentially useful target to prevent problematic alcohol use among young people who have had exposure to emotional abuse.