Childhood abuse and lifetime psychopathology in a community sample

Am J Psychiatry. 2001 Nov;158(11):1878-83. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.158.11.1878.


Objective: The authors assessed lifetime psychopathology in a general population sample and compared the rates of five psychiatric disorder categories between those who reported a childhood history of either physical or sexual abuse and those who did not.

Method: A modified version of the Composite International Diagnostic Interview and a self-completed questionnaire on child abuse were administered to a probability sample (N=7,016) of Ontario residents 15 to 64 years of age.

Results: Those reporting a history of childhood physical abuse had significantly higher lifetime rates of anxiety disorders, alcohol abuse/dependence, and antisocial behavior and were more likely to have one or more disorders than were those without such a history. Women, but not men, with a history of physical abuse had significantly higher lifetime rates of major depression and illicit drug abuse/dependence than did women with no such history. A history of childhood sexual abuse was also associated with higher rates of all disorders considered in women. In men, the prevalence of disorders tended to be higher among those who reported exposure to sexual abuse, but only the associations with alcohol abuse/dependence and the category of one or more disorders reached statistical significance. The relationship between a childhood history of physical abuse and lifetime psychopathology varied significantly by gender for all categories except for anxiety disorders. Although not statistically significant, a similar relationship was seen between childhood history of sexual abuse and lifetime psychopathology.

Conclusions: A history of abuse in childhood increases the likelihood of lifetime psychopathology; this association appears stronger for women than men.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / epidemiology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / etiology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / etiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires