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Posted on: July 15, 2020 | Dr. Todd Thatcher

A woman suffering from childhood trauma and addiction.

Physical and sexual abuse, as well as neglect, occur at an alarming rate. Currently considered to be a significant public health issue in the United States, experts are concerned that children exposed to this type of trauma face a significantly higher risk of becoming addicted to drugs and/or alcohol later in life.

Although the reasons behind this common co-occurrence are complex, many develop a substance use disorder after turning to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. Understanding how past trauma affects substance abuse and other mental health disorders can be key to understanding how to better treat it. That’s why at Highland Springs, we navigate all of our treatment methods in personalized, evidence-based methods.

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Childhood Trauma And The Brain: What the Research Says

Numerous studies have uncovered a connection between exposure to traumatic experiences, particularly those during childhood, and substance use disorders. There is ample evidence showing that childhood trauma compromises both the structure and function of the brain. In turn, these individuals face an increased risk of various illnesses and deficits, including major depression, PTSD, and substance abuse.

Neurological and Biological Effects

Trauma in childhood has serious consequences for its victims, as well as for society. When exposed to a traumatic event or a series of traumatic events, the body activates a biological stress response. This then activates both behavioral and emotional effects that are similar to PTSD symptoms. In turn, this is believed to impact childhood brain development.

A child’s experiences cause certain connections to develop, grow stronger, or weaken. Just as learning to speak or walk strengthens certain neural pathways, trauma can also impact the growth and connectivity of the brain. Since the brain is not structurally complete at birth, development is guided by environmental cues.

Emotional Trauma

Emotional trauma is a normal response to a life-altering or disturbing event. However, some individuals experience lasting effects when their nervous system gets “stuck” in a psychological state that makes it challenging to process emotions.

While many associate childhood trauma with abuse, children can be exposed to a wide range of stress-inducing experiences, including the loss of a parent, neglect, witnessing violence, or having a close family member who suffers from a mental illness.

CDC-Kaiser ACE Study

The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is one of the largest and most well-known investigations of childhood abuse and neglect, focusing on later-life health and well-being. This study collected data from more than 17,000 middle-class Americans, reporting a clear link between adverse childhood experiences and negative adult outcomes, both in terms of physical and mental health. 

While focusing on addiction, this study found that children who experience four or more traumatic events are five times more likely to become an alcoholic. They’re also 60 percent more likely to be obese, and up to 46 times more likely to become an injection-drug user.

Processing Early Childhood Trauma — Your Road to Recovery

The first goal of trauma recovery should and must be to improve your quality of life on a daily basis” — Babette Rothschild 

If you have experienced trauma in the past, which has led to a life of drug and/or alcohol abuse, now is the time to heal and connect with who you are. Yes, the healing process associated with childhood trauma is hard, but it is most certainly possible. The goal is to combat your current addiction so that you can work through past experiences that allow you to mourn, then grow as an individual.

Start Your Recovery

Step one: Know that you are not alone and that you deserve to be happy

Nearly 35 million children in the United States have experienced one or more types of trauma. Those who experience neglect, abuse, or loss early on in life, often suffer from years to come. It’s common to develop a serious emotional or psychological disorder — but now is the time to cultivate acceptance.

Learn 5 Healthy Coping Strategies To Use After a Traumatic Event

If you have been hiding behind your substance abuse disorder, you may be numb to your past, even though it has led to a wide range of problematic symptoms within your everyday life. Step one is about accepting the fact that you deserve more, and that you can achieve a more meaningful, happy life.

Step two: Address your addiction

Unless you are sober, you will not be able to effectively work through your issues with childhood trauma and addiction. Addiction is a complex disease, one that requires a customized approach.

It’s important to reach out to a professional facility that understands the deeply interwoven relationship between addiction and trauma in terms of your recovery process. The ultimate goal here is to replace unhealthy behavioral patterns with healthier ones.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) has been shown to effectively address and manage trauma-based addiction. From improving emotional regulation to learning distress tolerance skills, a professional facility will help you every step of the way.

Step three: Understand that you’re safe now

When you’re in recovery, working alongside professionals, they will help you rid your life of toxic people, toxic emotions, and toxic behaviors. Once you distance yourself from traumatic people and events from your past, you will learn that you are no longer in danger.

While you may have been living your life in a constant state of fight or flight, you can now reclaim your life. Work with your trauma and addiction specialist in order to constantly move forward. It’s okay to take your time, as you actively get to the root of your problems.

Your Road to Recovery Can Begin Today

Making the decision to seek support is a courageous act. Although you may currently live in fear, know that you can break free from that pain. Achieving a life of sobriety is the first step, which will allow you to feel and experience your thoughts and emotions.

Give yourself permission to let go and live the life you deserve. At Highland Springs, we understand the impact that childhood trauma and addiction can have — we also know how to address it. While the things that happened to you in your childhood can not be erased, you can minimize their effects. You can reclaim your power. Speak with a professional, ask questions, and learn about the services available to you today.

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