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Child Abuse Negl. 2009 Jun;33(6):343-52. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2008.09.009. Epub 2009 May 23.

Child maltreatment as a risk factor for opioid dependence: Comparison of family characteristics and type and severity of child maltreatment with a matched control group.

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National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia.



To examine the prevalence, characteristics and risk factors for child maltreatment among opioid-dependent persons compared to a community sample of similar social disadvantage.


The study employed a case-control design. Cases had a history of opioid pharmacotherapy. Controls were frequency matched to cases with regard to age, sex and unemployment and were restricted to those with a lifetime opioid use of less than five times. The interview covered child maltreatment, family environment, drug use and psychiatric history.


This study found a high prevalence of child maltreatment among both cases and controls. Despite the elevated prevalence among controls, opioid-dependent males had a higher prevalence of physical and emotional abuse; female cases had a higher prevalence and greater severity of sexual abuse. The prevalence of neglect was similar for both groups. Early parental separation was more prevalent among female cases compared to female controls; otherwise the prevalence of the risk factors was comparable for both groups. The risk factors significantly associated with child maltreatment were also similar for both cases and controls.


Given the documented association between child maltreatment and adult mental disorder, child maltreatment may be an important antecedent of current psychological distress in persons presenting to treatment for opioid dependence. Apart from a possible association between early parental separation and sexual abuse among female cases, the increased prevalence of child maltreatment associated with opioid dependence did not appear to be related to differences in early childhood risk factors considered in this paper. Other risk factors may be more pertinent for those with opioid dependence.


The high prevalence of child maltreatment among the opioid-dependent sample has implications for the assessment and treatment of clients presenting with opioid dependence. Assessment of child maltreatment history could help inform the development of individual treatment plans to better address those factors contributing to the development and maintenance of opioid dependence. Specifically, management of co-morbid mental disorder associated with child maltreatment could be the focus of relapse prevention programmes and also have a positive influence on treatment retention.

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