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Childhood abuse may predict social phobia, agoraphobia, and PTSD among adult alcoholics

  • Many alcoholics report coexisting psychiatric disorders such as social phobia, agoraphobia, and posttraumatic stress disorder.
  • New research indicates that childhood abuse sexual, physical or both may play a role in the later development of coexisting psychopathologies among alcoholics.

Both researchers and clinicians can attest to the high co-occurrence of alcoholism and other psychiatric disorders, although the exact contribution of genetic and environmental factors to coexisting psychopathologies remains unclear. Findings published in the March issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research have uncovered the important role that an environment of childhood abuse sexual, physical or both appears to play in the development of psychiatric comorbidity among alcoholic patients.

"Our findings clearly indicate that childhood abuse more specifically, sexual abuse and combinations of sexual and physical abuse is an important factor for the presence of comorbid anxiety disorders in treated alcoholics, particularly regarding social phobia, agoraphobia, and posttraumatic stress disorder," said Willemien Langeland, a freelance trauma researcher at the University of Amsterdam and the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, as well as first author of the study.

Langeland added that, compared with other environmental risk factors, childhood sexual and "dual" abuse contribute independently to a more severe clinical profile, that is, more comorbid diagnoses, in abused versus non-abused alcoholic patients. "This has not been previously demonstrated in treated alcoholics," she said. "In addition, more severe and intrusive forms of early sexual abuse as well as early multiple traumas are associated with a more complex symptom constellation that includes dysthymia (a chronic mood disorder) and suicidality."

"This study and a few others clearly show that seeing alcoholics only as people having an alcohol problem shoul
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