Childhood spanking was associated with increased risk for suicide attempts, moderate-to-heavy drinking and illicit drug use in adulthood.
“Child maltreatment has been consistently associated with a broad range of mental health problems, including depression or depressed mood, personality disorders, suicidal ideation and/or attempts, and substance use in adulthood. Similarly, numerous studies over the past 20 years have also found spanking to be associated with similar mental health problems in childhood and adulthood, including depression or depressed mood, personality disorders, suicidal ideations and/or attempts and self-injurious behavior, and substance use,” Tracie O. Afifi, PhD, of University of Manitoba, Canada, and colleagues wrote. “However, some of these studies are limited by not simultaneously accounting for other adverse childhood experiences.”
To determine if spanking should be considered an adverse childhood experience and if it is associated with negative outcomes in adulthood, researchers analyzed data from the CDC-Kaiser Adverse Childhood Experience study (n = 8,316).
Overall, 54.8% of respondents reported being spanked.
Men were more likely to experience spanking in childhood, compared with women.
Blacks and respondents who reported other ethnicities were more likely to experience spanking in childhood, compared with whites. Spanking was less common among Asian respondents.
Adequate fit of the model to the data indicated acceptable factor interpretability for the physical abuse, emotional abuse and spanking factor.
When adjusting for sociodemographic characteristics, respondents who experienced spanking had increased risk for depression, suicide attempts, moderate to heavy drinking, and illicit drug use, compared with those who did not experience spanking.
When adjusting for physical/emotional abuse factor and sociodemographic characteristics, spanking remained significantly associated with suicide attempts, moderate-to-heavy drinking and illicit drug use.
“These findings provide strong support that spanking can be considered yet another form of early adversity, based on the loading on the same factor structure with physical and emotional abuse items and the fact that spanking was significantly related to adult health impairments above and beyond physical/emotional abuse,” the researchers wrote. “The relationship between reports of being spanked in childhood and mental and behavioral health impairment in adulthood are similar in direction to the associations between physical/emotional abuse and adult suicide attempts, moderate to heavy drinking, and street drug use. Therefore, these results provide strong support for consideration of spanking as an [adverse childhood experience].” – by Amanda Oldt
Disclosures: Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.