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Child Abuse Negl. 2007 Jul;31(7):769-89. Epub 2007 Jul 12.

Childhood risk factors for alcohol abuse and psychological distress among adult lesbians.

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Department of Public Health, Mental Health and Administrative Nursing, UIC National Center of Excellence in Women's Health, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL 60612, USA.



This study examined the relationships between childhood and family background variables, including sexual and physical abuse, and subsequent alcohol abuse and psychological distress in adult lesbians.


Structural equation modeling was used to evaluate relationships between childhood sexual and physical abuse and parenting variables and latent measures of lifetime alcohol abuse and psychological distress in a large community-based sample of lesbians.


Childhood sexual abuse (CSA) directly predicted lifetime alcohol abuse, and childhood physical abuse (CPA) directly predicted lifetime psychological distress. In addition, CSA indirectly increased the risk of lifetime alcohol abuse through its negative effect on age at first heterosexual intercourse. Childhood physical abuse had only indirect effects on lifetime alcohol abuse through its strong relationship to lifetime psychological distress. Parental drinking problems and parental strictness directly predicted lifetime psychological distress; parental drinking problems indirectly predicted lifetime alcohol abuse through the mediators of age of drinking onset and lifetime psychological distress. White lesbians, younger lesbians, and those with lower levels of education were at greatest risk of psychological distress.


While the cross-sectional design precludes causal conclusions, study findings--especially those related to CSA--are consistent with previous research on predominantly heterosexual women in the general population. Lesbians who experienced CSA were at heightened risk of lifetime alcohol abuse and those who experienced CPA were at heightened risk of lifetime psychological distress relative to lesbians without abuse histories. Given the dearth of research on childhood abuse and sexual orientation, studies are needed that examine the similarities and differences between lesbians' and heterosexual women's experiences of, and responses to, childhood abuse.

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