Childhood physical abuse and subsequent violent victimization among people who use illegal drugs in Vancouver, Canada

PLoS One. 2021 Aug 12;16(8):e0255875. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0255875. eCollection 2021.


Background: Violent victimization is common among people who use illegal drugs (PWUD) and is a source of significant health-related harm. However, little attention has been paid to how antecedent childhood trauma among PWUD may contribute to the risk of victimization in adulthood.

Objective: This study sought to examine the relationship between childhood physical abuse and victimization by physical assault among adult PWUD.

Participants and setting: Data were derived from three prospective cohorts of PWUD in Vancouver, Canada between 2005 and 2018.

Methods: Childhood physical abuse was assessed using the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire. Generalized linear mixed modeling was used to estimate the relationship between childhood physical abuse and subsequent violent victimization, after adjustment for potential confounders.

Results: Among 2960 PWUD, including 1018 (34.39%) female participants, 1030 (34.8%) participants reported a history of moderate to severe childhood physical abuse, and 949 (32.06%) participants reported recent violent victimization at baseline. In a multivariate analysis, childhood physical abuse (Adjusted Odds Ratio [AOR] = 1.34, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.23-1.46) remained independently associated with violent victimization after adjustment for potential confounders.

Conclusions: This study found a high prevalence of childhood physical abuse and that this was associated with a higher risk of subsequent violent victimization among PWUD in this setting. Greater support for PWUD with a history of childhood physical abuse is needed to decrease existing vulnerability to violence, including screening for and treatment of childhood trauma and related violence prevention.

Grant support

This study was supported by the US National Institutes of Health (US-NIH) (U01-DA038886, U01-DA021525, U01-DA0251525), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) (MOP-286532), the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, and the Canada Research Chairs Program. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.