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The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Adult Addiction

older grade school kids bullying another student while someone records it on their phone - Childhood Trauma and Adult Addiction

When a child experiences trauma, it is especially damaging. The effects of the trauma typically last longer than they would for an adult because a child’s brain is in an early stage of development. Often, a child is not capable of understanding the trauma they have been through. Sadly, many children have no way to leave a traumatic situation if the trauma is occurring at home or school. Trauma experienced in childhood may impact the person for the rest of their lives and can often lead to drug or alcohol addiction.

What Is Childhood Trauma?

Childhood trauma, also known as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), can come from many sources, including:

  • physical, sexual, or psychological abuse
  • physical or emotional neglect
  • witnessing violence at home or in the community
  • bullying
  • loss of a loved one
  • serious illness or accident
  • natural disaster

How each child reacts to a traumatic event depends on many factors: such as whether or not they had a support system and if they were able to process the experience at all.

Trauma is not just a one-time experience. It has lasting effects on all aspects of being: emotional, mental, physical, and social. It causes consistently high stress levels. When a child experiences trauma, they can be left feeling powerless, confused, and betrayed. They may have high levels of fear and an inability to trust the world or other people.

The Link Between Childhood Trauma & Adult Addiction

Many studies link childhood trauma to adult substance addiction. Adults who experience childhood trauma involving sexual, physical, or emotional abuse are at a much higher risk of substance use disorders. They use drugs or alcohol to deal with the painful memories of abuse, cope with feelings of isolation and loneliness, and deal with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Here are a few startling statistics from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network regarding childhood trauma and addiction:

  • One in four adolescents and children in the United States experiences at least one
    traumatic event before the age of 16.
  • Teens who have experienced sexual or physical assault or abuse are three times more likely to use drugs or alcohol.
  • More than 70 percent of adolescents receiving substance abuse treatment had experienced trauma as children.

Further research about ACEs supports the strong link between childhood trauma and adult addiction:

  • For each adverse childhood experience, the risk of substance abuse and addiction increases two to four times.
  • Almost two-thirds of IV drug users have experienced traumatic abusive childhood events.
  • Adults who experienced three or more ACEs have higher rates of drug and alcohol abuse; they also have higher rates of domestic violence, depression, heart disease, and sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Individuals with five or more adverse childhood experiences are seven to ten times more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol.

Help Is Available

When substance use disorder stems from trauma, this is called a co-occurring disorder. Treatment for co-occurring disorders is specialized and must address both the addiction and the trauma. When a person receives the help they need to process old trauma, they have a much better chance of sustaining a long-term recovery from addiction.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction complicated by symptoms of PTSD or unresolved trauma, you are not alone. At Canyon Vista Recovery Center, located in Mesa, Arizona, our staff of highly skilled, caring professionals will use a combination of psychiatric care, evidence-based addiction treatments, and holistic therapies to help you cope with past trauma and find a path to a joyful recovery. Take the first step on the path to recovery. Call us today.

Do you or someone you care about need help for addiction in Arizona? Learn more about programs offered at Canyon Vista Recovery Center. Contact us at (888) 979-1840

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