Does Childhood Sexual Abuse Lead to Adult Addiction?

Dear Mr. Peele,

I wondered what your thoughts were on the connection between individuals who have suffered sexual trauma (incest, molestation, rape, etc.) who then developed a chemical addiction. It seems to me there is a strong correlation here. I have read so many studies where sexual abuse appears to be a predictor of drug and alcohol addiction. Do your experiences reflect this thinking?


addiction-articles-113-healthyplaceDear Diane:

I read claims like yours often. Even people who generally agree with me make such claims. I don't believe it. In general, my feeling is that no type of specific trauma results in any type of specific dysfunction in adulthood. It is not merely my distaste for deterministic models of psychology and psychiatry that makes me say this. Whenever research on childhood and family trauma or experience is conducted (e.g., about childhood violence, FAS/"crack babies", children of alcoholics) is conducted, it finds that the majority of people from such backgrounds do not develop the malady in question. More importantly, even the heightened susceptibility to the problem is clearly not due to transference of a trait directly from parent to child. Rather, it is the culture of violence, drinking, etc. of which the household is part that supports and conveys this heightened likelihood to engage in a behavior or, more generally, it is the entire deprived, degraded, or disorganized home that leads to a host of disorders. This applies as well to fetuses born to drug or alcohol-abusing mothers, whose problems are the result of an entire environment of pre- and post-fetal abuse.



Family violence:

R.J. Gelles and M.A. Straus, Intimate Violence, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.

J. Kaufman and E. Zigler, Do abused children become abusive parents?, American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 57:186-192, 1987.

Children of alcoholics

E. Harburg et al., Familial transmission of alcohol use: II. Imitation and aversion to parent drinking (1960) by adult offspring (1977), Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 51:245-256, 1990.

FAS/Cocaine babies

E.L. Abel, An update on incidence of FAS: FAS is not an equal opportunity birth defect, Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 17:437-443, 1995.

R. Mathias, Developmental effects of prenatal drug exposure may be overcome by postnatal environment, NIDA Notes, January/February, 1992, pp. 14-15.

Two summaries of recent evidence that what have been identified as crack babies are victims primarily of poverty are provided in the Media Awareness Project library: J. Jacobs, The crack of doom is simply poverty; S. Wright, Crack cocaine babies aren't doomed to failure, studies show.

next: Does the Disease Concept of Alcoholism Benefit Native Americans?
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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 20). Does Childhood Sexual Abuse Lead to Adult Addiction?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 16 from

Last Updated: June 27, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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