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Psychiatry Res. 2010 May 15;177(1-2):150-5. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2009.03.008. Epub 2010 Apr 9.

Examining the unique relationships between anxiety disorders and childhood physical and sexual abuse in the National Comorbidity Survey-Replication.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, USA.


Research has accumulated over the past several years demonstrating a relationship between childhood abuse and anxiety disorders. Extant studies have generally suffered from a number of methodological limitations, including low sample sizes and without controlling for psychiatric comorbidity and parental anxiety. In addition, research has neglected to examine whether the relationships between anxiety disorders and childhood abuse are unique to physical abuse as opposed to sexual abuse and vice versa. The current study sought to examine the unique relationships between anxiety disorders and childhood physical and sexual abuse using data from the National Comorbidity Survey-Replication. Participants (n=4141) completed structured interviews from which data on childhood abuse history, lifetime psychiatric history, parental anxiety, and demographics were obtained. After controlling for depression, other anxiety disorders, and demographic variables, unique relationships were found between childhood sexual abuse and social anxiety disorder (SAD), panic disorder (PD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD); in contrast, physical abuse was only associated with PTSD and specific phobia (SP). Further, among women, analyses revealed that physical abuse was uniquely associated with PTSD and SP, while sexual abuse was associated with SAD, PD, and PTSD. Among men, both sexual and physical abuse were uniquely associated with SAD and PTSD. Findings provide further evidence of the severe consequences of childhood abuse and help inform etiological accounts of anxiety disorders.

Copyright 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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