The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

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

Timing of Child Maltreatment and Alcohol Use in Young Adulthood

Saturday, January 18, 2014
HBG Convention Center, Bridge Hall Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Sae-Mi Jeon, MA, Doctoral Student, Boston University, Boston, MA
Sunny H. Shin, PhD, Associate Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
Yeonseung Chung, PhD, Assistant Professor, Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Daejeon, South Korea
Purpose: Most forms of childhood maltreatment have been found to be subsequently associated with later harmful alcohol use habits. For example, existing studies have found that childhood physical abuse increased the likelihood of alcohol use in young adulthood about two to three-fold.  However, there is a paucity of empirically-based knowledge on how timing of the insult (e.g., physical abuse during infancy vs. adolescence) influences different drinking behaviors in young adulthood. It is well documented in the neurobiological literature that different brain regions have individual neurodevelopmental sensitive periods when they are maximally susceptible to the effects of early stress. Identifying such sensitive periods might help the development of social work interventions to modify the saliency of a sensitive period in conferring risk for alcohol use and abuse during young adulthood. We examine the utility of two different characterizations of physical abuse timing to predict later drinking behaviors. We hypothesize that the drinking-related sequelae of child physical abuse would depend, at least in part, on the timing of the physical abuse.

Methods: Participants for the study were recruited through community advertisements within the local metropolitan area, using online and offline bulletin postings. The average age of the sample (N=300) was 21.73 years (SD=2.10) and slightly more than half were female (51.5%). A majority of the sample was non-Hispanic white (58%), while 16% were black, 8.3% were Asian, 7.3% were Hispanic, and 10% were of other ethnic or racial groups. Using the community sample of young individuals, we performed latent class analyses (LCA) to identify homogenous groups of young people with similar patterns of physical abuse timing.  Second, timing of childhood physical abuse was also characterized in terms of developmental periods (i.e., infancy/preschool, middle childhood, adolescence). Multiple linear and logistic regression models were used in an effort to examine the associations between physical abuse timing and four types of drinking behaviors including drinking frequency, binge drinking, alcohol-related problems, and alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Results: LCA identified three heterogeneous classes of young people distinguished by quantitative differences in child physical abuse timing including no physical abuse, post-pubertal physical abuse, and chronic physical abuse. Regression models indicated that chronic physical abuse was associated with all drinking behaviors (β = 0.45 – 0.88) with the exception of AUD, whereas post-pubertal physical abuse was associated with drinking frequency (β = .41) and binge drinking (odds ratio = 2.74). Finally, using the developmental period method, our analyses also revealed that physical abuse that has occurred in adolescence predicted drinking frequency (β = .52) and alcohol use problems (β = .58).

Implications: The present study suggests that timing of child physical abuse may play a significant role in linking child physical abuse to problematic alcohol use in young adulthood. The results of this research suggest that adolescent physical abuse and chronic childhood physical abuse are particularly related to drinking behaviors in young adulthood.