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African Teens with Troubled Childhoods Are More Likely to Abuse Alcohol

Posted in Alcohol Abuse

A new study released in the latest issue of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health shows that African children who experience abuse or neglect are at a higher risk of problem drinking during adolescence or early adulthood.

Prior addiction research has shown that many negative childhood experiences–such as neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and the presence of mental illness or substance abuse in the household–compound an individual’s risk of psychological disorders as an adolescent or adult. Although several studies have demonstrated much higher rates of alcohol consumption among American and European young adults than those in Africa, not much data has been presented on the propensity of African adolescent alcohol abuse and other behavioral disorders related to early developmental influences. Even though African teenagers have lower alcohol consumption rates, they are still at high risk of contracting diseases or disorders attributable to drunkenness and risky behavior.

This latest study by researchers at the African Population and Health Research Center in Nairobi, Kenya examined the prevalence of alcohol abuse among sub-Saharan teenagers and their associations with specific influences of childhood maltreatment. Lead researcher Dr. Caroline Kabiru and her team surveyed a total of 9,189 teenagers ages 12 to 19 on their levels of drunkenness as well as the presence of various risk factors including insecure food supplies in the household, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and living with a family member who had a drinking problem. Participants in the study were from Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi, or Uganda. Researchers controlled such factors as the teenager’s country, place of residence, gender of the teenager’s head of household, living arrangements, and personal elements including the teenager’s gender, age, religiosity, school status, and marital status during their analysis.

As a result, researchers found that approximately 9% of the adolescents reported drunkenness within the past 12 months. Overall, the presence of any of the childhood risk factors measured was attributed to increased levels of drunkenness among adolescents. For males, those who had experienced physical abuse or lived with a problem drinker prior to the age of 10 were most likely to have reported drunkenness. For females, having a family history of alcoholism, being sexually abused, or experiencing physical abuse during childhood increased their likelihood to report problem drinking. 

The association between early childhood adverse events and future problem drinking was more prominent in female adolescents. Females were also more likely than males to be coerced into sex, and even more females were coerced into other acts of sexual nature during childhood. For both genders, adolescents who had experienced more than one adverse event during childhood had graded increases in risk of future drunkenness. In general, males were more likely than females to be currently enrolled in school and to live with both biological parents. Although only 6% of all respondents had ever been married, females were much more likely than males to be married.

The researchers point to their findings as evidence for the need of early intervention and treatment strategies for children who undergo abuse, trauma, or neglect in order to prevent problem alcohol use in later life.