OBJECTIVE: Childhood maltreatment is associated with early alcohol use initiation, alcohol-related problem behaviors, and alcohol use disorders in adulthood. Heavy drinking risk among individuals exposed to childhood maltreatment could be partly attributable to stress sensitization, whereby early adversity leads to psychobiological changes that heighten sensitivity to subsequent stressors and increase risk for stress-related drinking. We addressed this issue by examining whether the association between past-year stressful life events and past-year drinking density, a weighted quantity-frequency measure of alcohol consumption, was stronger among adults exposed to childhood maltreatment.METHOD: Drinking density, stressful life events, and child maltreatment were assessed using structured clinical interviews in a sample of 4,038 male and female participants ages 20-58 years from the Virginia Adult Twin Study of Psychiatric and Substance Use Disorders. Stress sensitization was examined using hierarchical multiple regression analyses to test whether stressful events moderated the association between maltreatment and drinking density. Analyses were stratified by sex and whether the impact was different for independent stressful events or dependent stressful events as related to a participant’s actions.RESULTS: Independent stressful events were associated with heavier drinking density among women exposed to maltreatment. In contrast, drinking density was roughly the same across independent stressful life events exposure among women not exposed to maltreatment. There was little evidence for Maltreatment × Independent Stressor interactions in men or Maltreatment × Dependent Stressor interactions in either gender.CONCLUSIONS: Early maltreatment may have direct effects on vulnerability to stress-related drinking among women, particularly in association with stressors that are out of one’s control.