Research Proposal on Child Abuse in Adults

Child Abuse in Adults


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Child Abuse

Child abuse is “any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker, which results in the death, physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, or an act which presents an imminent risk or serious harm (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2007). The human personality is dynamic and a single incident can have lifetime adverse or irreversible impact. Yet little is known about the subject despite its significance. This study will investigate the effects on adults who were abused as children.

A certain research was conducted on 554 adults aged 18-22 (White & Giorgadze, 2006). Of the group, 304 or 68% were women who reported that they were subjected to verbal, physical and sexual abuse and exposed to domestic violence. They expressed the abuses through dissociative experiences, anxiety, depression, and somatization and “limbic irritability.” Limbic irritability includes of brief hallucinations and automatisms. The researchers described the respondents’ symptoms as “dramatically influenced” by their history of abuse. They found that the combined exposure to verbal abuse and domestic violence produced great depression and anxiety more than any single kind of abuse. This research offers evidence that clinicians should take the verbal abuse of children seriously. It also cautions parents that substituting emotional and verbal abuse for physical punishment can bring on its own risks on the child or person (White & Giorgadze).

White, Helene Raskin and Widom, Cathy Spatz (2008). Three Potential Mediators of the Effects of Child Abuse and Neglect on Adulthood Substance Use among Women. Journal of Studies on Alcohol: Alcohol Research Documentation, Inc. Retrieved on April 16, 2009 from;col1

White and Widom discuss the results of a cohort design study on factors, which connected the effects of childhood abuse and neglect to substance use in adulthood. The study gathered an original sample 1,575 child respondents in the Midwest area and their records from juvenile and adult courts between 1967 and 1971. Then a follow-up was made on 1,291 of the original sample between 1989 and 1995.

The authors found that abused and neglected girls were highly prone to use illicit drugs and develop related problems when they reached middle adulthood. Post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, stressful life events and delinquent and criminal behavior enhanced the effects of childhood abuse towards substance use in adulthood. Of the three mediators, PTSD singly inclined the women to use drugs later in life. Most of the respondents said they used marijuana in middle adulthood. Earlier research revealed that those who had PTSD symptoms tended to self-medicate with alcohol or depressant drugs, unlike the respondents of this present study. It was not clear if they preferred marijuana for its numbing effects of PTSD symptoms.

The authors also wrote that delinquent and criminal behavior in adolescence somewhat mediated the effects of childhood abuse with illicit drug use in middle adulthood. Previous research had similar findings for both men and women. Past and present studies indicate that delinquent and criminal behavior served as the passage from childhood maltreatment to substance use in adulthood.

Splete, Heidi (2006). Childhood Abuse Predicts Adult Anxiety Disorders. Clinical Psychiatry News: International Medical News Group. Retrieved on April 16, 2009 from;col1

The author discusses the connection between emotional abuse during childhood and pathological worry in adulthood as the result of a study conducted by Dr. Iwona Cheminski and Dr. Mark Zimmerman of Brown University. The doctors surveyed 376 adult psychiatric outpatients who were victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect and emotional neglect. Earlier research linked childhood emotional and physical abuse to sensitivity to anxiety and warned that this could extend to adulthood. Anxiety disorders accounted for a third of the participants. Social phobia was common among 114 or 30% of them, panic disorder in 61 patients, and generalized anxiety disorder in 45 or 12% of them.

The study revealed that emotional abuse, emotional neglect, physical abuse, and physical neglect were connected with pathological worry. But only emotional abuse was significantly linked with adult pathological worry after the doctor-researchers conducted a multiple regression analysis on 45 patients suffering from general anxiety disorder.

Lapp, Kathleen G.; Bosworth, Hayden G.; Strauss, Jennifer L.; Stechuchak, Karen M; et al. (2005). Lifetime Sexual and Physical Victimization among Male Veterans with Combat-Related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Military Medicine: Association of Military Surgeons of the United States. Retrieved on April 16, 2009 from;col1

Lapp and his team surveyed 133 male veterans with combat-related PTSD from a psychiatric inpatient unit to evaluate them for lifetime physical and sexual trauma. They found that 96% of them experienced some kind of victimization in their lifetimes. Of this number, 60% said they suffered from physical abuse as children; 41% reported sexual abuse; 93% physical assault, and 20% sexual assault in adulthood. In the previous year, 46% said they were subjected to physical or sexual assault. The findings warranted the use of routine inquiry into the histories of non-combat victimization.

The respondents in the study were African-American and Caucasian in almost equal representation. Almost all of them were married, almost half were divorced, separated or widowed. Most of them had a high school education. Almost all of them were moderately to severely exposed to combat at 95%. They specifically reported having been physically

assaulted at 95%, sexually assaulted at 47% and another 47% both sexually and physically assaulted. Physical abuse consisted of getting hit with a hard object at 55%; getting knocked down with a fist or kicked or choked at 44%; and getting burned or scalded or threatened with a knife or gun at 20%. Sexual abuse consisted of non-contact for 34%; contact without penetration at 29%; and penetration at 11%.

Adult victimization was also high. Physical abuse occurred in 93% of them since age 16. The abuse was in the form of getting pushed or shoved at 75%; slapped or twisting of the arm at 54%; getting kicked at 43%; getting punched or hit with a hard object at 71%; getting slammed against a wall at 44%; chocking at 35%; getting burned or scaled at almost 10%; and a gun or knife used at 65%. After age 16, they were forced into sex at 11% and oral or anal sex under threat of physical force at 3%. Those who experienced these also reported physical assault in adulthood. In the previous year alone, 45% of them were subjected to either sexual or physical assault at 44%. Of the total number, 4.5% were physically or sexually assaulted.

The authors found that 96% of the respondents were physically or sexually victimized at some time in their lives. An analysis of the occurrences and developments showed that they were victimized as children at 69%, in adulthood at 93% and recently or in the previous year at 46%. Physical and sexual abuse accounted for the victimization. Sexual assault was common in childhood at 41% and adulthood at 20% and physical assault was common to all life periods at 60%, 93% in childhood and recently in adulthood at 44%.

Lifetime victimization could contribute to the severity of PTSD, other and related impairments, and their psychiatric hospitalization. There is a lack of research on pre-combat trauma affecting combat-related PTSD. But a particular study on Vietnam veterans showed that a history of childhood trauma was more common among those with combat-related PTSD than among those without it. This one study connected childhood abuse to the development of PTSD in latter life. It suggested that traumatic events in childhood predisposed the veterans to stress reactions in adulthood.

Physical victimization among the respondents was higher in adulthood at 93% than in childhood at 60%. The preponderance of data indicate that combat veterans with PTSD are likelier to exhibit aggressive behavior, such as physical altercations, which show PTSD symptoms. These are hostility, irritability and anger outbursts. Research in this victimization among veteran men is significant, because victimization may play a crucial role in perpetuating the cycle of abuse in a lifetime.

In reaction to these findings, the Department of Veteran Affairs mandated the screening of both men and women for a history of victimization. The findings support this mandate and the need for routine inquiry on victimization beyond military experience. This review will also assist in treatment planning and provide a basis for risk determination for violence.

Business Wire (2000). McLean Researchers Document Brain Damage Linked to Child Abuse and Neglect. Business Wire: Gale, Cengage Learning. Retrieved on April 16,

2009 from;col1

These researchers identified four types of brain abnormalities, resulting from physical abuse of children. Neglect and trauma increase the production of cortisol and reduce the production of the thyroid hormone. This hormone influences the development of neurochemical and neurotransmitter receptors in the hippocampus amygdala and locus coeruleus, which regulate anxiety and fear. From the findings, the research team also assumed that the stress brought about by abuse released certain hormones and transmitters in abused children so that their minds were re-wired to respond to a hostile environment. They were re-programmed to experience stress, fear and anxiety on to adulthood.

Director Martin Teicher of the Developmental Biophsychiatry Research Program at McLean said that maltreatment in childhood can effect changes in brain function and structure. A child’s brain continues to develop throughout childhood and adolescence. His interactions with the environment create effects, which stabilize in puberty and adulthood. These experiences determine how the child will be wired. The four types of cranial abnormalities, which are permanent, are limbic irritability, arrested development of the left hemisphere, deficient integration between the left and the right hemispheres, and increased vermal activity.

The McLean researchers investigated 253 adults in an outpatient mental health clinic. More than half of them reported a history of physical or sexual abuse in childhood. The researchers found that those who were abused as children scored higher in the Limbic System Checklist. The finding provided evidence that abuse in childhood caused electrical impulses when limbic cells communicate. This results in seizures, indicating limbic irritability. Follow-up studies of 115 children showed that those who were subjected to abuse were twice as likely to suffer from abnormalities in the left hemisphere. These abnormalities were associated with more self-destructive behavior and more aggression.

Studies also offer evidence of deficient development of the left brain hemisphere among patients who were abused as children. In healthy persons, the right hemisphere is often more active. The deficiency may lead to the development of depression and increase the risk of memory problems. There is also reduced integration between the left and right hemispheres in patients with a history of abuse in childhood. The MRI scans of 51 patients with this history were compared with the MRIs of 97 health persons at the National Institute of Mental Health. Tests showed that the corpus callosium of abuse children was smaller than that of healthy children. Neglect appeared to reduce the size from 24-42% in boys. Girls who suffered neglect as children had smaller sized corpus callosum at 18-30%. A smaller corpus callosum reduces integration between the hemispheres and leads to sharp mood or personality shifts.

The researchers used the new MRI technique, called T2 relaxometry, on 32 adults with a history of sexual or intense verbal abuse and those without. Findings showed that those abused patients had higher vermal activity, a response to electrical irritability in the limbic system to restore emotional balance. But trauma itself can injure this ability.

These findings comprised the first comprehensive review of how abuse in childhood can damage their developing brain in the form of disorders, such as anxiety and depression, when they reach adulthood.

The above researches provide evidence that abuse and neglect in childhood is linked to irreversible brain injury, predicts anxiety disorder in latter life, is connected to substance use and sexual and physical victimization in adulthood. Abuse and neglect in childhood have significant and damaging effects in adulthood. #


Business Wire (2000). McLean Researchers document brain damage linked to child abuse and neglect. Business Wire: Gale, Cengage Learning. Retrieved on April 16,

2009 from;col1

Lapp, K.G.; Bosworth, H.B.; Strauss, J.L.; Stechuchak, K.M., et al. (2005). Lifetime

sexual and physical victimization among male veterans with combat-related Post-

Traumatic Stress Disorder. Military Medicine: Association of Military Surgeons of the United States. Retrieved on April 16, 2009 from;col1

Splete, H (2006). Childhood abuse predicts adult anxiety disorders. Clinical Psychiatry

News: International Medical News Group. Retrieved on April 16, 2009 from;col1

White, H.R. And Widom, C.S. (2008). Three potential mediators of the effects of child abuse and neglect in adulthood substance use among women. Journal of Studies in Alcohol: Alcohol Research Documentation, Inc. Retrieved on April 16, 2009 from;col1

White, R and Giorgadze, A. (2006). Verbal abuse and witnessing violence in childhood are highly associated with psychiatric symptoms. Medscape Psychiatry & Mental

Health: Medscape. Retrieved on April 16, 2009 from

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