Abuse, Alcohol, and Drug Use
In Chapter 2, we discussed a series of mechanisms thought to mediate the association between abuse victimization and later violence. These included the learning of violent behavior, central nervous system injury, cognitive problems, school problems, peer problems, negative emotionality, emotion regulation, and psychological sequelae, including trauma. There is not enough research that bears on these mediators to return to them. However, we will address another potential mediating factor: substance use.
Recent wisdom suggests that one indirect route from abuse victimization to violent behavior traverses through elevated alcohol and drug use among abuse victims. Using data from a sample of substance-abusing women, Simons et al. reported that 59.8% had experienced physical abuse and 40.2% multiple childhood trauma (Simons, Ducette, & Kirby, 2003). In multiple studies, child abuse has been linked with alcohol and drug problems (e.g., Dembo, Dertke, Borders, Washburn, & Schmeidler, 1988; Silverman, Reinherz, & Giaconia, 1996; Stein, Leslie, & Nyamathi, 2002). Ireland, Smith, and Thornberry (2002) reported, in simple comparisons, that a persistent measure of maltreatment was most consistently associated with drug use over time in the Rochester Youth Development Study. In addition, Robertson et al. (2008) found that physical maltreatment was associated with both common drug use and hard drug use.
Although there are enough supportive studies to conclude that an association probably exists, there are also numerous studies that have not found a significant association between abuse victimization and substance problems (Bailey et al., 2009; Kim & Williams, 2009; Salomon, Bassuk, & Huntington, 2002; Simons et al., 2003). Widom et al. have reported conflicting results on this point (e.g., Schuck & Widom, 2001; White & Widom, 2008; Widom, Weiler, & Cottler, 1999; Wilson & Widom, 2009). This suggests that there may be important caveats, probably related to abuse type, severity of abuse, measures of substance abuse, and age of the subjects.