Exploring the Relationship between Levels of Alcohol Use and Child Physical Abuse


  • Bridget Freisthler


Objectives. This study examined how different levels of drinking were related to the perpetration of child physical abuse in California. Methods. A general population telephone survey of 3,023 parents or legal guardians 18 years or older was conducted across 50 cities in California during March 2009 through October 2009. The telephone survey included items data on physically abusive parenting practices, drinking behaviors, and socio-demographic characteristics. Results. Ordered probit models found that heavier moderate drinkers, infrequent heavy drinkers, occasional heavy drinkers, and frequent heavy drinkers were all more likely to report engaging in physically abusive behaviors over the past year than were lifetime abstainers. The marginal effects for some demographic variables were statistically significant for participants who reported no and minor physical abuse.

Conclusion. Parents who drink heavily infrequently or occasionally are not likely to meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence. Children of these parents may be overlooked by both the substance abuse treatment and child welfare systems, meaning that without intervention or services they are at greater risk for future problems.


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