Violent Victimization in Adolescence and Problem Drinking Outcomes: Findings From the Violence and Threats of Violence Against Women and Men in the United States Survey, 1994-1996

Catherine Kaukinen, The Bowling Green State University
Alfred Demaris, The Bowling Green State University

This study explores the connection between violent victimization in adolescence and subsequent problem drinking. Using data from the Violence and Threats of Violence against Women and Men in the United States Survey, 1994-1996 we examine the effects of adolescent physical and sexual victimization on problem drinking behavior. Problem drinking is characterized by both drinking behavior (heavy intake and intensity of drinking episodes) and its consequences (negative social and personal outcomes). We define binge drinking as four or more standard drinks in a single setting in the last two weeks. While many researchers define binge drinking for men and women as drinking five or more drinks at one sitting (Schulenberg, O'Malley, Bachman, Wadsworth and Johnston, 1996), a strong argument has been made that a more equivalent bingeing criterion for women is four drinks per occasion and that the five-drink level may underestimate binge drinking among women (Wechsler, Dowdall, Davenport and Rimm, 1995; Wechsler, Davenport, Dowdall, Moeykens, and Castillo, 1994). The study had two purposes: (1) to identify the frequency of binge drinking among a sample of women; and (2) to examine the impact of violent victimization in adolescence on binge drinking. We draw on the literature on adolescent development and suggest that stressful and traumatizing events in adolescence, such as violent victimization, shape a number of life course outcomes (Steinberg, Seffield Morris, 2001; Loeber and Hay, 1997). Moreover, we hypothesize that the consequences of violent victimization are more salient for adolescent girls as compared to women (Macmillan, 2001) and will therefore have a greater effect on problem drinking. Research has identified a number of long-term social, psychological and behavioral consequences of violent victimization (Macmillan, 2001; Margolin and Gordis, 2000). Violent crime victims are at higher risk for depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other internalizing problems (Davis, Taylor and Lurigio, 1996; Kilpatrick, Saunders, Veronen, Best and Von, 1987). Research suggests that crime victims are more likely to experience anxiety, suffer from negative self-perceptions and that child and adolescent victims of violence experience suicidal thoughts and attempts. Experiences with violence in early childhood by parents and caregivers increases the risk for a variety of antisocial behaviors, childhood and adolescent aggression and violent offending in adulthood (Kaufman and Widom, 1999; Rivera and Widom, 1990). Violent victimization experiences also have consequences for alcohol use and abuse. Violent victimization, particularly childhood sexual assault and molestation, increases the risk for alcohol dependency, problem drinking, and alcohol related difficulties (Clark and Foy, 2000). Research also indicates that physically abused and neglected children are significantly more likely to have alcohol and drug related arrests in adulthood (National Institute of Justice, 1995). Alcohol may be used by victims in an attempt to cope with the trauma of violence (Flannery, Singer, Williams and Castro, 1998; Runtz and Schallow, 1997), thereby reducing anxiety and increasing feelings of mastery and control (Runtz and Schallow, 1997; Pearlin and Radabaugh, 1976). While a number of researchers have explored the impact of violent victimization on alcohol abuse, these studies have often only looked at the implications of child physical and sexual abuse and/or other victimizations in childhood. At the same time, previous studies have not concurrently examined the impact of violent victimization at different points in the life course on problem and binge drinking.

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Updated 05/20/2006