Purpose: We examined the associations of self-reported abuse and sexual molestation with self-reported alcohol and drug use in a general population of adolescents.
Methods: We used a stratified cluster sampling procedure with replacement to sample 4790 students in Washington State public schools in Grades 8, 10, and 12. Students were asked whether they had ever been abused by an adult and whether they had ever been sexually molested. They were also asked about their levels of alcohol and drug use and about early initiation of substance use. We conducted polytomous logistic regressions, controlling for gender and grade, using Software for the Statistical Analysis of Correlated Data (SUDAAN).
Results: We identified associations between reported abuse history and alcohol and drug use in adolescence and early initiation of substance use. The associations between reported abuse history and alcohol use were stronger at younger ages. The strongest association was between combined abuse and molestation, and relatively severe (heavy) drinking by eighth graders (odds ratio, 7.9; 95% confidence interval, 2.6-17.4). For drug use, the associations with reported abuse history were slightly stronger at higher levels of severity and for combined abuse and molestation compared to nonsexual abuse. For early initiation, the associations with abuse history were stronger for combined abuse and molestation than for nonsexual abuse or molestation alone, and stronger for marijuana use/regular drinking than for alcohol/cigarette experimentation. For example, adjusted odds ratios and 95% confidence intervals (in parentheses) for combined abuse and molestation were 3.5 (2.8-4.5) for alcohol/cigarette experimentation and 12.2 (6.3-23.6) for marijuana use/regular drinking by age 10. For abuse alone, these figures were 2.5 (2.0-3.1) and 4.7 (3.0-7.3), respectively.
Conclusion: Efforts to reduce substance use and abuse in adolescence, particularly heavy use and use early in adolescence, should consider the possible role of a history of maltreatment.