Background: Data from a community-based longitudinal study were used to investigate whether childhood abuse and neglect increases risk for personality disorders (PDs) during early adulthood.
Methods: Psychosocial and psychiatric interviews were administered to a representative community sample of 639 youths and their mothers from 2 counties in the state of New York in 1975, 1983, 1985 to 1986, and 1991 to 1993. Evidence of childhood physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect was obtained from New York State records and from offspring self-reports in 1991 to 1993 when they were young adults. Offspring PDs were assessed in 1991 to 1993.
Results: Persons with documented childhood abuse or neglect were more than 4 times as likely as those who were not abused or neglected to be diagnosed with PDs during early adulthood after age, parental education, and parental psychiatric disorders were controlled statistically. Childhood physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect were each associated with elevated PD symptom levels during early adulthood after other types of childhood maltreatment were controlled statistically. Of the 12 categories of DSM-IV PD symptoms, 10 were associated with childhood abuse or neglect. Different types of childhood maltreatment were associated with symptoms of specific PDs during early adulthood.
Conclusions: Persons in the community who have experienced childhood abuse or neglect are considerably more likely than those who were not abused or neglected to have PDs and elevated PD symptom levels during early adulthood. Childhood abuse and neglect may contribute to the onset of some PDs.