Childhood trauma increases risk for drug use in adolescence

Childhood trauma, ranging from interpersonal violence to car accidents, was associated with increased risk for illicit drug use, according to findings in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

“Abuse and domestic violence were particularly harmful to children, increasing the chances of all types of drug use in the adolescent years,” Hannah Carliner, ScD, MPH, of Columbia University, said in a press release. “We also found that trauma such as car accidents, natural disasters and major illness in childhood increased the chances that teens would use marijuana, cocaine and prescription drugs.”

To assess associations between potentially traumatic events in childhood and illicit drug use, researchers analyzed data from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication-Adolescent Supplement for 9,956 adolescents aged 13 to 18 years.

Potentially traumatic events were categorized as interpersonal violence (physical abuse by caregiver, physical assault by someone else, mugged, raped, sexually assaulted, stalked, kidnapped, or domestic violence exposure), traumatic accidents (car accident, other serious accident, natural or man-made disaster, physical illness, toxic chemical exposure, or accidentally injured someone), network or witnessing events (unexpected death of a loved one, traumatic experience of a loved one, or witnessing injury or death), and other events.

Overall, 36% of the cohort reportedly experienced potentially traumatic events before age 11 years.

Exposure to potentially traumatic events before age 11 years was associated with higher risk for use of marijuana (risk ratio = 1.5; 95% CI, 1.33-1.69), cocaine (RR = 2.78; 95% CI, 1.95-3.97), prescription drugs (RR = 1.8; 95% CI, 1.29-2.51), other drugs (RR = 1.9; 95% CI, 1.37-2.63) and multiple drugs (RR = 1.74; 95% CI, 1.37-2.2).

Researchers found a positive monotonic relationship between number of potentially traumatic events and marijuana, other drug, and multiple drug use.

Interpersonal violence increased risk for use of marijuana (RR = 1.78; 95% CI, 1.54-2.07), cocaine (RR = 2.64; 95% CI, 1.75-3.98), nonmedical prescription drugs (RR = 2.2; 95% CI, 1.49-3.27), other drugs (RR = 1.7; 95% CI, 1.12-2.57) and multiple drugs (RR = 2.31; 95% CI, 1.69-3.15).

Car accidents and unspecified potentially traumatic events were associated with higher risk for marijuana, cocaine and prescription drug use, according to researchers.

“Drug treatment programs should consider specifically addressing the psychological harm caused by traumatic experiences in childhood, and developing less harmful active-coping strategies for dealing with current stress and traumatic memories among adolescents,” Carliner said in the release. “Such early intervention during this critical period of adolescence could have broad benefits to the health and well-being of adults.” – by Amanda Oldt

Source:  Carliner H, et al. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2016;doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2016.05.010.   June 16, 2016

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