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September 2000Vol. 1, No. 6Researchers Find Link between Childhood Abuse and Adult Anxiety

A recent study, published in the August 2, 2000 issue (vol. 284, no. 5) of the Journal of the American Medical Association, shows a link between early childhood trauma and a higher level of stress hormones later in life.

The study, conducted from 1997 to 1999 at Emory University in Atlanta, concludes that women who had experienced physical or sexual abuse as children show exaggerated stress hormone levels as adults, when placed in stressful situations (mock job interviews and math tests, in this case). Women who were abused as children and who were currently suffering major depression exhibited the highest levels of stress.

According to the study, "Severe stress early in life is associated with persistent sensitization of the pituitary-adrenal and autonomic stress response, which, in turn, is likely related to an increased risk for adulthood psychopathological conditions."

Researcher Dr. Jeffrey Newport said the study raised the following issues:

  • Clarity needed on what drug treatments might be helpful to adult survivors of childhood abuse
  • Drugs in development called coricotropin releasing factor-receptor antagonists might be even more effective
  • Consideration of preventive measures in children who have suffered abuse.

Consistent with findings from laboratory animal studies, the authors note that "this is the first human study to report persistent changes in stress reactivity in adult survivors of early trauma."

The complete article is available online to paid subscribers of the Journal of the American Medical Association and to all American Medical Association members by registering at

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