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The Connection Between Childhood Trauma and Addiction

The Connection Between Childhood Trauma and Addiction

If you’ve had an adverse experience as a child, such as being a victim of abuse, witnessing abuse, or watching a parent suffer from drug or alcohol addiction, there is a chance you are presently carrying around invisible childhood trauma. Those with childhood post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might have learned unhealthy coping mechanisms to survive the abuse, neglect, or adverse experiences. One unhealthy coping mechanism is sometimes substance use. This article discusses child abuse, how childhood PTSD can lead to addiction, and what you can do to end the cycle of addiction and heal.

Adverse Childhood Experiences

If you experienced trauma as a child, chances are it impacted you tremendously. Since these experiences can have an enormous impact on those in adulthood, many mental healthcare and addiction facilities will screen for Adverse Childhood Experiences as a part of their intake process. When entering a clinic or a program, they might have you take the ACE Questionnaire, which presents a series of questions covering different experiences. These experiences include childhood neglect and abuse, witnessing abuse, experiencing a terminal illness, experiencing bullying, or surviving an accident or natural disaster.

How Child Abuse and Early Trauma Effects Development

When a person experiences early trauma, it impacts the brain while it’s still developing. There are parts of the brain that continue to grow until the age of 25, such as the prefrontal cortex, which controls emotions and reasoning. Other things such as personality are still in development during the early stages through elementary school.

Early childhood trauma can compromise the brain’s structure and leave abuse victims more likely to develop depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and substance use disorder later in life.

ACES and Addiction

There is ample evidence of the connection between PTSD and addiction. According to recent data, among individuals with PTSD, 46.4% of those surveyed met the criteria for substance use disorder. Another study found that those in treatment for substance use disorder are between 30 to 60% more likely to have PTSD.

Addiction is a common after-effect of childhood trauma because people who have been exposed to adverse experiences and weren’t able to process the trauma often self-medicate as a way to deal with the emotions connected to the trauma. Others also might use substances to avoid thinking about the trauma they experienced at an early age. One study found that 59% of young people with PTSD later formed a substance use disorder.

The severity of the addiction and substances used can also depend on the extent of the childhood abuse. If a child has had more than four traumatic childhood experiences, their likelihood of developing a substance use disorder increases exponentially. The nature of the addiction can also be influenced by the order in which the addiction and trauma occurred. Exposure to drugs at a young age is a form of trauma that can change how a professional might approach treatment.

How Early Intervention Helps

If your younger loved one has recently experienced a traumatic event or has a recent history of childhood abuse, they should receive help from a therapist. Processing these traumatic events can help the child’s development and lowers the chance of PTSD. Receiving trauma-informed care can also help. Since childhood PTSD is so common in addiction treatment patients, treatment centers and clinics have taken a trauma-informed approach to their care. With this approach, clinics screen for possible traumatic experiences and lead with the assumption that people have been exposed to trauma at some point in their lifetime.

Symptoms of PTSD and Childhood PTSD

You might know how an experience has affected you but may not realize that something you experienced as a child or adult was traumatic. People might react to something a certain way but not make the connection that they are experiencing symptoms of PTSD. For example, a person might feel stressed when hearing loud noises but doesn’t make the connection to an abusive experience from their past that is responsible for triggering that feeling.

These symptoms can include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Reoccurring dreams based on the event
  • Distressing thoughts
  • Physical signs of distress
  • Avoidance symptoms such as staying away from a location or activity that reminds them of the trauma
  • Avoiding thoughts or feelings associated with the trauma
  • Being startled easily
  • Tension or edginess
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Irritability
  • Engaging in risky, reckless, or destructive behaviors
  • Troubles remembering critical events of the trauma
  • Negative thoughts about oneself or the world
  • Negative feelings such as shame, fear, and guilt
  • Loss of interest in previous activities
  • Social isolation
  • Difficulty feeling positive emotions

If you or a loved one connects with these symptoms and has an issue with substance use, it’s highly recommended to seek professional help from a mental health professional.

If you’ve had a difficult childhood or experienced a traumatic event at a younger age, it can affect you even into adulthood. While it might seem long ago, your experiences can still affect your quality of life if you weren’t able to process these events. If you or your loved one has a history of adverse childhood experiences and has an addiction, they should receive help as soon as they can. A treatment center can help you process the events in your life and make peace with the past. You deserve to live a fulfilling life despite anything that happened in the past.

Villa Oasis San Diego is here to help; you aren’t alone. To learn more about how your history of childhood trauma could be contributing to addiction, call us today at (323) 739-8673. It is never too late to find help.