Relationship between Substance Use Disorder and Childhood Experience with Violence among Youth

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Research Question:

What is the relationship between substance use disorder and childhood experience with violence among youth? Does it vary by race?

The purpose of this study is to explore the relationship between substance use disorder and childhood experience with violence among youth. Additionally, we would like to analyze if this association varies by race.

The theory that we will be using for our study is the stress and coping theory. Stress and coping is the most popular cognitive-behavioral theories of the addictive process.1-2 From this perspective, substance use is viewed as a coping response to life stress that can function to reduce negative affect or increase positive affect. Stress refers to the problems or strains that people encounter throughout life, and coping refers to the behavioral or cognitive responses that people use to manage stress.2-3 In comparison to other potential coping strategies, coping via substance use generally is regarded to be limited in effectiveness, as repeated use of substances is detrimental to physical and psychosocial well-being.1-2 A reasonably large literature has accumulated examining the relation between stress-coping and substance use. As noted above, stress-coping skills are relevant for coping with general life stress, and the goal of stress-coping is to maintain physical and psychosocial well-being.4

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It is public health’s responsibility to ensure children who experience violence are receiving treatment and healthy coping actions for their trauma. Studies have found experiencing childhood violence to be linked to high risk behaviors such as engaging in unprotected sexual activity, suicidal ideations, violent behaviors, and substance use.5-7 In fact, two-thirds of intravenous drug users reported experiencing various types of childhood trauma and two-thirds of children (ages 17 and younger) also reported being a witness to violence in 2014.7-8 In 2017 alone, 12.6% of youth ages 15-24 died of drug overdoses.9 Racial, cultural and religious backgrounds also play a part on how youth view substances, which may alter the exposure and outcome relationship.

Child abuse and other adverse experiences have been repeatedly shown to impact mental health/substance use disorders and contribute to the development of social problems, such as crime.9-11 Childhood traumas, or adverse childhood experiences, comprise of abuse, neglect, and household deprivation.12 Decades of research have documented the causal link between adverse childhood experiences and mental health/substance use disorders.12 Past research has also largely measured the impact of individual types of adverse experiences or used an additive measure of experiences.13 Also, given that adverse experiences vary by individual characteristics, such as gender, race, and ethnicity, more sensitive analyses of adverse experiences are needed.13

To conduct this study, several variables are needed. For substance use disorder, we need the variables SUBABUSE (substance use disorder) and SUBABUSE_CURR (substance abuse disorder currently).14 For childhood experience with violence, we need the variables ACE6 (Child Experienced ‐ Adults Slap, Hit, Kick, Punch Others), ACE7 (Child Experience - Victim of Violence), BULLIED_R (Bullied, picked on, or excluded by others), and BULLY (bullies others, picks on them, or excludes them).14 Lastly, we need the variable SC_RACE_R (race of selected child, detailed) in order to determine if the association varies between races.14


  1. T.A. Wills, A.E. Hirky. Coping and substance abuse: A theoretical model and review of the evidence. Handbook of coping: Theory research, and applications. 1996: 279-302.
  2. T.A. Wills, S. Shiffman. Coping and substance use: A conceptual framework. Coping and substance use. Academic Press. 1985; 3-24.
  3. Wagner EF, Myers MG, McIninch JL. Stress-coping and temptation-coping as predictors of adolescent substance use. Addictive Behaviors. 1999;24(6):769-779. doi:10.1016/S0306-4603(99)00058-1.
  4. R.S. Lazarus, S. Folkman. Stress, appraisal, and coping Springer Publishing Company. 1984.
  5. Berenson AB, Wiemann CM, McCombs S. Exposure to Violence and Associated Health-Risk Behaviors Among Adolescent Girls. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2001;155(11):1238–1242. doi:10.1001/archpedi.155.11.1238.
  6. Zinzow HM, Ruggiero KJ, Hanson RF, Smith DW, Saunders BE, Kilpatrick DG. Witnessed community and parental violence in relation to substance use and delinquency in a national sample of adolescents. J Trauma Stress. 2009;22(6):525–533. doi:10.1002/jts.20469
  7. McMahon D, Kelly J, Kenny J. When Trauma Slips into Addiction. The Chronicle of Social Change. Published December 17, 2018. Accessed February 4, 2020.
  8. Children's Exposure to Violence. Children’s Exposure to Violence. Published 2016. Accessed February 4, 2020.
  9. V. Felitti, R. Anda, D. Nordenberg, D. Williamson, A. Spitz, V. Edwards, J. Marks. Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 1998; 14 (4):245-258.
  10. K. Hughes, M.A. Bellis, K.A. Hardcastle, D. Sethi, A. Butchart, C. Mikton, M.P. Dunne. The effect of multiple adverse childhood experiences on health: A systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet Public Health. 2017; 2 (8) : 356-e366, 10.1016/s2468-2667(17)30118-4.
  11. H. Jung, T.I. Herrenkohl, J.B. Klika, J.O. Lee, E.C. Brown. Does child maltreatment predict adult crime? Reexamining the question in a prospective study of gender differences, education, and marital status. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 2015; 30 (13): 2238-2257.
  12. Henry BF. Typologies of adversity in childhood & adulthood as determinants of mental health & substance use disorders of adults incarcerated in US prisons. Child Abuse & Neglect. 2020; 99. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2019.104251.
  13. K. Scott-Storey. Cumulative abuse: Do things add up? An evaluation of the conceptualization, operationalization, and methodological approaches in the study of the phenomenon of cumulative abuse. Trauma, Violence & Abuse. 2011; 12 (3) : 135-150.
  14. 2018 National Survey of Children’s Health: Topical Variable List. U.S. Department of Commerce. Published 2019. Accessed February 4, 2020.
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Relationship between Substance Use Disorder and Childhood Experience with Violence among Youth. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from
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