Adverse childhood experiences among women prisoners: relationships to suicide attempts and drug abuse

Int J Soc Psychiatry. 2014 Feb;60(1):40-6. doi: 10.1177/0020764012461235. Epub 2012 Oct 8.


Background: Women prisoners are known to suffer from an accumulation of factors known to increase the risk for several major health problems. This study examines the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences (ACE) and the relationship between such experiences and suicide attempts and drug use among incarcerated women in Norway.

Methods: A total of 141 women inmates (75% of all eligible) were interviewed using a structured interview guide covering information on demographics and a range of ACE related to abuse and neglect, and household dysfunction. The main outcome variables were attempted suicide and adult drug abuse.

Results: Emotional, physical and sexual abuse during childhood was experienced by 39%, 36% and 19%, respectively, and emotional and physical neglect by 31% and 33%, respectively. Looking at the full range of ACE, 17% reported having experienced none, while 34% reported having experienced more than five ACEs. After controlling for age, immigrant background and marital status, the number of ACEs significantly increased the risk of attempted suicide and current drug abuse.

Conclusion: The associations observed between early life trauma and later health risk behaviour indicate the need for early prevention. The findings also emphasize the important role of prison health services in secondary prevention among women inmates.

Keywords: Women inmates; childhood adversity; drug use; suicide.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / diagnosis
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Comorbidity
  • Crime / psychology
  • Crime / statistics & numerical data
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / psychology
  • Emigrants and Immigrants / statistics & numerical data
  • Family Conflict / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Life Change Events*
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Norway
  • Prisoners / psychology*
  • Prisoners / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Factors
  • Risk-Taking
  • Spouse Abuse / psychology
  • Spouse Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology*
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data*