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.