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Abstract

This study characterizes adults who report being physically abused during childhood, and examines associations of reported type and frequency of abuse with adult mental health. Data were derived from the 2000–2001 and 2004–2005 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, a large cross-sectional survey of a representative sample (N = 43,093) of the U.S. population. Weighted means, frequencies, and odds ratios of sociodemographic correlates and prevalence of psychiatric disorders were computed. Logistic regression models were used to examine the strength of associations between child physical abuse and adult psychiatric disorders adjusted for sociodemographic characteristics, other childhood adversities, and comorbid psychiatric disorders. Child physical abuse was reported by 8% of the sample and was frequently accompanied by other childhood adversities. Child physical abuse was associated with significantly increased adjusted odds ratios (AORs) of a broad range of DSM-IV psychiatric disorders (AOR = 1.16–2.28), especially attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and bipolar disorder. A dose-response relationship was observed between frequency of abuse and several adult psychiatric disorder groups; higher frequencies of assault were significantly associated with increasing adjusted odds. The long-lasting deleterious effects of child physical abuse underscore the urgency of developing public health policies aimed at early recognition and prevention.