The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Addiction

The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Addiction

The prevalence of childhood trauma continues to be a major contributor to adult addiction and mental illness. It is estimated that two-thirds of children worldwide have suffered at least one traumatic episode by the time they are 16 years old. The most commonly reported childhood traumatic events include:

  • Physical and/or emotional neglect and abuse
  • Sexual assault/rape
  • Witnessing violence in the home
  • Sudden loss of a loved one
  • Abandonment
  • Homelessness
  • Being the victim of a school shooting
  • Being the victim of a natural disaster

Experiencing trauma as a child severely disrupts the stress response system. Although the HPA axis controlling the stress response is capable of handling normal stress, consistent exposure to intense stress “dysregulates” the activity of the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands–the HPA axis. Childhood trauma also has detrimental effects on the normal development of cognitive, emotional, and executive thinking skills in children. Consequently, many children impacted by trauma have difficulty in school and forming solid relationships with their peers.

Self-Treatment with Addictive Substances

If a child enduring trauma does not receive the treatment they need to help them cope with profound emotional pain, depression, and fear, they will learn that using drugs or alcohol is a type of self-medicating “quick fix”. Alcohol, marijuana, heroin, or methamphetamine gives them the reprieve they desperately want from horrible memories, recurring nightmares, and obsessive thoughts about their own self-worth.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) analysis identifies major childhood stressors that are used by addiction specialists when evaluating individuals with substance abuse disorders. The ACES report also says that women and minority groups are more at risk for experiencing multiple types of ACEs. In addition, ACEs significantly increase the chance that a traumatized person will suffer from STDs, teen pregnancy, and stress-related chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.

Research shows that childhood trauma leads to adult alcoholism more than drug addiction. A study involving over 550 participants with histories of being emotionally, sexually, and physically abused as children found that 39 percent were alcoholics, 34 percent were addicted to cocaine, and six percent used heroin to self-medicate symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The study also discovered that the more severe childhood trauma was, the more likely the adult would use cocaine instead of opioids.

Treating Childhood Trauma and Addiction

Several treatment protocols have proven effective for helping substance abusers with PTSD and other psychological issues associated with childhood trauma. When cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) are combined with medication in a residential treatment setting, individuals will understand how to resolve feelings of anger, guilt, and resentment, control the medical disease of addiction, and develop powerful coping skills.

To learn more about the link between childhood trauma and addiction, or to find out about entering treatment for a substance abuse disorder, please call Hickory Treatment Centers today at 800-604-2117.

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If you have tried to stop using alcohol or drugs on your own, you may feel that sobriety and clean living seem far away. However, with the help of caring staff members and a safe, structured environment, you can receive the guidance you need to fight cravings and regain control of your life.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment with our admission staff or learn more about our healing programs.