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Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010 Feb;67(2):124-32. doi: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2009.187.

Childhood adversities and adult psychiatric disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication II: associations with persistence of DSM-IV disorders.

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Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School, 180 Longwood Ave, Boston, MA 02115, USA.



Although significant associations of childhood adversities (CAs) with adult mental disorders have been widely documented, associations of CAs with onset and persistence of disorders have not been distinguished. This distinction is important for conceptual and practical purposes.


To examine the multivariate associations of 12 retrospectively reported CAs with persistence of adult DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication.


Cross-sectional community survey.


Household population in the United States.


Nationally representative sample of 5692 adults.


Recency of episodes was assessed separately for each of 20 lifetime DSM-IV mood, anxiety, disruptive behavior, and substance use disorders in respondents with a lifetime history of these disorders using the Composite International Diagnostic Interview. Predictors of persistence were examined using backward recurrence survival models to predict time since most recent episode controlling for age at onset and time since onset.


The CAs involving maladaptive family functioning (parental mental illness, substance use disorder, criminality, family violence, physical and sexual abuse, and neglect) but not other CAs were significantly but modestly related to persistence of mood, substance abuse, and anxiety disorders. Number of maladaptive family functioning CAs had statistically significant, but again substantively modest, subadditive associations with the same outcomes. Exposure to multiple other CAs was significantly associated with persistence of mood and anxiety disorders. Associations remained statistically significant throughout the life course, although the substantive size of associations indicated by simulations showing time to most recent episode would increase by only 1.6% (from a mean of 8.3 years to a mean of 8.4 years) in the absence of CAs.


The overall statistically significant associations of CAs with adult DSM-IV/Composite International Diagnostic Interview disorders are due largely to component associations with onsets rather than with persistence, indirectly suggesting that the greatest focus of public health attention on CAs should be aimed at primary rather than secondary prevention.

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