Adverse Childhood Events and Addiction

Childhood trauma is a common cause of addiction. As children age, they self-medicate to deal with anxiety and depression.

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Adverse Childhood Events

Childhood trauma can impact people well into their adulthood. It is especially harmful as it occurs during the adolescent’s developmental years, thus shaping their perception of the world, and can lead people to be more susceptible to harmful addictions, as addictions provide temporary relief for emotional distress.

Childhood Trauma

Types of Adverse Childhood Events

Many types of Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs) may occur. Examples include:1

  • Domestic violence
  • Sexual, psychological, and physical abuse
  • Neglect
  • Growing up with a parent in prison
  • Growing up with a parent with an addiction or mental health issues
  • Dealing with parents going through a separation or divorce
  • Natural disasters

Aces and Health Inequalities

It is found that adverse childhood experiences cause health inequalities. Those that are traumatized are more likely to:

  • Go to prison
  • Develop diseases and conditions such as diabetes and heart disease
  • Experience a lower level of well-being
  • Become victims of substance abuse

Why Do ACEs Make Our Mental and Physical Health Worse?

Adverse childhood experiences can weigh on us throughout our lives. They can cause mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. The stress that comes with these conditions is detrimental to heart health. The combination of poor parental guidance and stress also raises the likelihood of obesity which is linked to several diseases.

What Is Childhood Trauma?

Childhood trauma is the lasting effects of a traumatic experience that happened during childhood.

What Is Childhood Traumatic Stress?

Childhood traumatic stress is characterized by the responses children have when thinking about traumatic events or their general disposition due to traumatic events.2

Signs and Symptoms of Traumatic Stress

The signs and symptoms of childhood trauma include the following:

  • Increase in heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Feelings of hyper-alertness
  • Agitation
  • Upset stomach
  • Nightmares
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Aches and pains
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Poor appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating

What Is Addiction?

Addiction is a behavior a person continues to engage in and cannot stop despite negative consequences. A person can have an addiction to anything, but the term is typically used to refer to substance abuse issues. Addiction is often caused by underlying emotional issues such as adverse childhood experiences. Simultaneously treating childhood trauma and addiction is key to producing long-term results. Therapists suggest healthy ways for patients to deal with their childhood trauma, so they don’t go back to using.

The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Addiction

Trauma and addiction are related in a variety of ways; these will be detailed further below.

Earlier Initiation of Alcohol Use

Reviews of studies on people seeking treatment for alcohol use disorder show that 62% reported being victims of childhood physical or sexual abuse.3

Higher Risk of Mental Illness and Addiction as an Older Adult

Studies reveal strong ties between mental health issues and childhood trauma, particularly if the child was exposed to bullying, maltreatment, parental loss, and emotional abuse.4

Continued Tobacco Use During Adulthood

A 2009 paper revealed that childhood trauma increases the risk of lifetime tobacco use. The number of cigarettes smoked and nicotine used daily was directly related to adverse childhood events.5

Prescription Drug Use

People who experience adverse childhood events are more likely to abuse prescription drugs. The trauma and addiction link is likely to form in college as students may be pushed to use due to social and academic stressors.6

Lifetime Illicit Drug Use and Self-Reported Addiction

Statistics show that people that deal with childhood trauma are more likely to develop an addiction later in life.

How Can We Help People with ACEs Overcome Addiction?

Childhood Trauma

Adverse childhood experiences and addiction are co-occurring conditions that are hard to fight. But help is available. Here are the steps you can take to find the assistance you need.

Address a Person’s Unresolved Childhood Trauma

The first step in getting help for addiction is to determine its underlying cause and the best ways to address it. If there is an ACE and addiction link, the therapist will suggest healthy ways for the patient to process trauma so they don’t go back to using.

Treat People with Compassion and Respect

If someone you know is dealing with addiction, treating them with compassion and respect is important. Don’t be judgmental of them. Show them that you care and want to help.

Use Harm Minimization Principles:

Harm minimization principles are as follows:

  • Trying to reduce drugs’ harmful effects instead of ignoring them and condemning them
  • Realizing that some drugs are safer than others
  • Understanding that the goal is to improve the well-being of the user rather than the cessation of drug use
  • Calling for resources and services to treat users and reduce harm in a nonjudgmental manner
  • Ensuring people that recover from drug use have a voice in the creation of drug policies and programs
  • Putting people who use drugs (PWUD) in charge of developing and enforcing strategies that help other PWUDs
  • Recognizing that childhood trauma and discrimination contribute to drug use.
  • Does not ignore the fact that drug use can be harmful

Help People with Addiction Find a Way Out

You can help a person dealing with adverse childhood experiences and substance use by recommending centers and resources that are accessible to them.

How the Soledad House Can Help

Many rehab facilities help people with childhood trauma and addiction, but Soledad House takes an approach that sets us apart. Soledad House is a women’s recovery program in beautiful San Diego, California. We offer a dual diagnosis approach that addresses addiction and its underlying cause, including childhood trauma. We provide a variety of strategies and take a faith-based approach. Trauma and addiction are hard to fight. Don’t go it alone. Contact Soledad House for the trauma and addiction recovery help you need. We will assist you in moving on to a higher quality of life.