New research published in Frontiers in Psychology found a connection between alcohol consumption in college and adverse experiences in childhood. The study revealed that as scores on a measure of adverse childhood experiences increased, so did the likelihood that the individual would have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
The last two decades have seen much research into the consequences of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Karolina Šulejová and colleagues defined ACEs as “physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, neglect, being the witness of domestic violence, and other serious household dysfunctions.”
Prior research has revealed that ACEs have mental and physical health consequences while increasing one’s vulnerability to addiction. This study intended to determine if more childhood adverse experiences meant more drinking during college.
The 4,044 participants were obtained from three Slovakian universities, their average age was 22, and 46% were women. The participants filled out an ACE questionnaire and a measure titled Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test (AUDIT). The ACE questionnaire identified ten areas of potential childhood trauma; if a participant indicates they experienced the trauma, they are assigned a point; ten is the total number of points. The AUDIT asked about how often and how much one drinks, symptoms of addiction, and guilt or injuries associated with drinking.
Fifteen percent of participants earned what would be considered high ACE scores of three or above. Women were more likely to have higher ACE scores, whereas men were more likely to score higher on the AUDIT.
Of those who scored high on the AUDIT measure, it was more common for women to have simultaneously high ACE scores. Five percent of men with high AUDIT scores had ACE scores of zero. In the case of women, only .9% of those scoring high on the AUDIT had ACE scores of zero.
To summarize this data the research team stated, “the relative increase in AUDIT scores based on the increase in ACE scores was more pronounced in female students compared to male students; however the cumulative proportion of drinkers in any ACE category was higher in male students.”
Limitations of this study include the cross-sectional nature of the study. When comparing many people at one time, it can be challenging to control for variables, making it difficult to draw clear conclusions. Second, the sample was made up of Slovakian college students; the cultural norms for alcohol consumption may not match with cultures outside of Slovakia.
Finally, the surveys were voluntary and completed without supervision. Over 16,000 surveys were initially sent out, and those who chose to answer the survey may have unifying characteristics that could bias the results.
Despite these limitations, the research team feels their work contributes to what is already known about the relationship between adverse childhood experiences and alcohol abuse. Secondarily, they found gender differences that may lead to a better understanding of the origin of alcohol abuse.
The study, “Relationship between alcohol consumption and adverse childhood experiences in college students – A cross-sectional study”, was authored by Karolína Šulejová, Dávid Líška, Erika Liptáková, Mária Szántová, Michal Patarák, Tomáš Koller, Ladislav Batalik, Michael Makara and Ľubomír Skladaný.