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Impulsivity as a mechanism linking child abuse and neglect with substance use in adolescence and adulthood

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 June 2017

Assaf Oshri*
University ofGeorgia
Steve M. Kogan
University ofGeorgia
Josephine A. Kwon
University ofGeorgia
K. A. S. Wickrama
University ofGeorgia
Lauren Vanderbroek
University ofGeorgia
Abraham A. Palmer
University of Chicago
James MacKillop
University ofGeorgia McMaster University St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Assaf Oshri, Department of Human Development and Family Science, University of Georgia, 208 Family Science Center (House A), 403 Sanford Drive, Athens, GA 30602; E-mail:


Emerging developmental perspectives suggest that adverse rearing environments promote neurocognitive adaptations that heighten impulsivity and increase vulnerability to risky behavior. Although studies document links between harsh rearing environments and impulsive behavior on substance use, the developmental hypothesis that impulsivity acts as mechanism linking adverse rearing environments to downstream substance use remains to be investigated. The present study investigated the role of impulsivity in linking child abuse and neglect with adult substance use using data from (a) a longitudinal sample of youth (Study 1, N = 9,421) and (b) a cross-sectional sample of adults (Study 2, N = 1,011). In Study 1, the links between child abuse and neglect and young adult smoking and marijuana use were mediated by increases in adolescent impulsivity. In Study 2, indirect links between child abuse and neglect and substance use were evidenced via delayed reward discounting and impulsivity traits. Among impulsivity subcomponents, robust indirect effects connecting childhood experiences to cigarette use emerged for negative urgency. Negative urgency, positive urgency, and sensation seeking mediated the effect of child abuse and neglect on cannabis and alcohol use. Results suggest that child abuse and neglect increases risk for substance use in part, due to effects on impulsivity. Individuals with adverse childhood experiences may benefit from substance use preventive intervention programs that target impulsive behaviors.

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This work was partially supported by NIH Grant P30 DA027827 and by NIH Grand R01-AA024930 and Project Grant 365297 (both to J.M.). Dr. Oshri is a mentored scientist at the Center for Translational and Prevention Science (P30 DA026285). Dr. MacKillop is the holder of the Peter Boris Chair in Addictions Research, which partially supported his role. The authors gratefully acknowledge John Acker's assistance with data collection for the crowd-sourcing study.


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Impulsivity as a mechanism linking child abuse and neglect with substance use in adolescence and adulthood
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Impulsivity as a mechanism linking child abuse and neglect with substance use in adolescence and adulthood
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