• Alcohol use disorder;
  • childhood physical punishment;
  • China;
  • epidemiology;
  • population survey;
  • structural equation modeling


Aims  The aim of the current study is to estimate the association between childhood physical punishment (CPP) and level of alcohol use disorder (AUD), using two different approaches to take other childhood adversities into account.

Design and setting  Population survey using face-to-face interviews to a representative sample of non-institutionalized adult residents of Beijing and Shanghai, China.

Participants  A total of 5201 participants aged 18–70 years.

Measurements  A version of the World Mental Health Composite International Diagnostic Interview was used. Standardized assessments covered early life experiences of childhood physical punishment, other childhood adversities, parental drinking problems, childhood conduct problems and clinical features of AUD.

Findings  A robust association linking CPP and level of AUD was found, holding other childhood adversities constant (probit coefficient = 0.70, 95% CI = 0.40, 1.00) via covariate terms in structural equations modeling. Furthermore, there was evidence that CPP might exert an additional influence on level of AUD over and above a generally noxious family environment (probit coefficient = 0.20, 95% CI = 0.02, 0.38).

Conclusions  There appears to be a robust association between reports of harsh punishment in childhood and alcohol dependence in adulthood adjusting for a range of possible confounding factors. Whether the association is causal or whether both are related to a common underlying factor or recall bias needs to be investigated further.