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Childhood maltreatment and illicit drug use in middle adulthood: The role of neighborhood characteristics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 July 2012

Preeti Chauhan*
John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY
Cathy Spatz Widom
John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Preeti Chauhan, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, 524 West 59th Street, 10th Floor, New York, NY 10019; E-mail:


This paper examined whether childhood maltreatment increases the risk of living in neighborhoods with less desirable characteristics (i.e., more disorder and disadvantage, less social cohesion, social control and advantage, and fewer resources) in middle adulthood and whether these neighborhood characteristics influence subsequent illicit drug use. Using a prospective cohort design study, court documented cases of childhood abuse and neglect and matched controls (n = 833) were first interviewed as young adults (mean age = 29 years) from 1989 to 1995 and again in middle adulthood from 2000 to 2002 (mean age = 40 years) and 2003 to 2005 (mean age = 41 years). In middle adulthood, individuals with histories of childhood abuse and neglect were more likely to live in neighborhoods with more disorder and disadvantage and less social cohesion and advantage compared to controls and to engage in illicit drug use during the past year. Path analyses showed an indirect effect on illicit drug use via neighborhood disorder among maltreated children, even after accounting for drug abuse symptoms in young adulthood, although this was sex specific and race specific, affecting women and Whites. Overall, child abuse and neglect places children on a negative trajectory that dynamically influences negative outcomes at multiple levels into middle adulthood.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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