Open Access Research

Women's childhood and adult adverse experiences, mental health, and binge drinking: The California Women's Health Survey

Christine Timko12*, Anne Sutkowi1, Joanne Pavao3 and Rachel Kimerling13

Author Affiliations

1 Center for Health Care Evaluation, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Care System, 795 Willow Road, Menlo Park, CA 94025, USA

2 Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA

3 National Center for PTSD, VA Health Care System, 795 Willow Road, Menlo Park, CA 94025, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy 2008, 3:15  doi:10.1186/1747-597X-3-15

Published: 6 June 2008



This study examined sociodemographic, physical and mental health, and adult and childhood adverse experiences associated with binge drinking in a representative sample of women in the State of California.

Materials and methods

Data were from the 2003 to 2004 (response rates of 72% and 74%, respectively) California Women's Health Survey (CWHS), a population-based, random-digit-dial annual probability survey sponsored by the California Department of Health Services. The sample was 6,942 women aged 18 years or older.


The prevalence of binge drinking was 9.3%. Poor physical health, and poorer mental health (i.e., symptoms of PTSD, anxiety, and depression, feeling overwhelmed by stress), were associated with binge drinking when demographics were controlled, as were adverse experiences in adulthood (intimate partner violence, having been physically or sexually assaulted, or having experienced the death of someone close) and in childhood (living with someone abusing substances or mentally ill, or with a mother vicimized by violence, or having been physically or sexually assaulted). When adult mental health and adverse experiences were also controlled, having lived as a child with someone who abused substances or was mentally ill was associated with binge drinking. Associations between childhood adverse experiences and binge drinking could not be explained by women's poorer mental health status in adulthood.


Identifying characteristics of women who engage in binge drinking is a key step in prevention and intervention efforts. Binge drinking programs should consider comprehensive approaches that address women's mental health symptoms as well as circumstances in the childhood home.