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Childhood sexual abuse and risks for licit and illicit drug-related outcomes: a twin study

  • ELLIOT C. NELSON (a1), ANDREW C. HEATH (a1), MICHAEL T. LYNSKEY (a1), KATHLEEN K. BUCHOLZ (a1), PAMELA A. F. MADDEN (a1), DIXIE J. STATHAM (a2) and NICHOLAS G. MARTIN (a2)...

Abstract

Background. This study examined the relationships between self-reported childhood sexual abuse (CSA) and drug-related outcomes in an Australian twin panel.

Method. A semi-structured psychiatric interview was conducted in 1996–2000 by telephone with young adult Australian twins (mean age 29·9 years). Data reported here are from 6050 twins who responded to both CSA and drug-related items.

Results. A history of CSA was associated with significant risk for subsequently occurring regular smoking and use of each illicit drug class. Further CSA-associated risk was found among regular users, for nicotine and alcohol dependence, and among illicit drug users, for abuse/dependence of most drug classes. In same-sex discordant pairs, significant risk for regular smoking and illicit drug use was found in twins with a history of CSA compared to their non-abused co-twins. Similar analyses for abuse/dependence found significant risk for opioids, any illicit drug, and any non-cannabis illicit drug. CSA was associated with significantly earlier drug use. Despite the association of CSA with risk for early-onset cannabis use and regular smoking, risks for illicit drug outcomes associated with CSA and with either form of early-onset use combine in near-additive fashion.

Conclusions. CSA is associated with risk for subsequently occurring regular smoking and illicit drug use and abuse/dependence. Risks for drug use are mildly attenuated with control for familial contributions; similar risks for abuse/dependence remain significant for opioids and for illicit drugs combined across classes. Although we found evidence of earlier onset drug use with CSA, risks associated with CSA and with early-onset use combine in a largely additive manner.

Copyright

Corresponding author

Washington University School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, 660 South Euclid Avenue, St Louis, MO 63110, USA. (Email: nelsone@wustl.edu)

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