The relationship between parental substance abuse and child maltreatment: findings from the Ontario Health Supplement

Child Abuse Negl. 2003 Dec;27(12):1409-25. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2003.07.002.


Objective: This study examined the relationship between reported exposure to child abuse and a history of parental substance abuse (alcohol and drugs) in a community sample in Ontario, Canada.

Method: The sample consisted of 8472 respondents to the Ontario Mental Health Supplement (OHSUP), a comprehensive population survey of mental health. The association of self-reported retrospective childhood physical and sexual abuse and parental histories of drug or alcohol abuse was examined.

Results: Rates of physical and sexual abuse were significantly higher, with a more than twofold increased risk among those reporting parental substance abuse histories. The rates were not significantly different between type or severity of abuse. Successively increasing rates of abuse were found for those respondents who reported that their fathers, mothers or both parents had substance abuse problems; this risk was significantly elevated for both parents compared to father only with substance abuse problem.

Conclusions: Parental substance abuse is associated with a more than twofold increase in the risk of exposure to both childhood physical and sexual abuse. While the mechanism for this association remains unclear, agencies involved in child protection or in treatment of parents with substance abuse problems must be cognizant of this relationship and focus on the development of interventions to serve these families.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / psychology
  • Child Abuse, Sexual / statistics & numerical data
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Ontario / epidemiology
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / etiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology