Our Blog

Childhood Trauma Increases Likelihood of Substance Abuse

Substance abuse counselors have known for years based on their experience with their patients that there is a link between childhood traumas and drug or alcohol addiction. A recent collaboration between physicians from the University of Texas and Tennessee’s Meharry Medical College focused on the connection between childhood trauma and the development of depressive disorders or substance abuse.

The study involved teens—a small group, to be sure, tracking only 19 youngsters with known childhood traumas against a control group of 13 teens with no known traumas. Their progress was documented every six months for up to five years to assess the need for drug addiction treatment or psychotherapy for depression. 

Imaging studies of the brain were performed on each of the children at the outset of the study, with repeat examinations conducted as follow-up. While only one of the teens in the control group experienced substance abuse problems and one suffered from depression, four among the traumatized group required drug addiction treatment and five of them needed psychotherapy for depression.  Results showed diminished integrity of the brain’s white matter, the inner brain material, especially in the parts of the brain that help with making decisions about behavior and also in the control of emotions.

What Constitutes Childhood Trauma?

Most people think of trauma as something injurious, something that physically injures a person. It’s true that children or anybody suffering from physical violence experiences that very common definition of trauma.

However, there are additional traumas that affect us as we grow. A physician from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, speaking to several hundred mental health professionals, enlarged the definition of trauma to include not just physical but sexual and psychological abuse, verbal mistreatment, and deprivation related to poverty. Children who witness domestic violence or see their parents being arrested or suffer from their parents’ addiction issues are victims of childhood trauma.

The much-larger Ohio study went a bit further by calculating reports of abuse according to the number of traumas experienced. Those who experienced at least three of the traumas demonstrated a sevenfold increase in alcohol abuse. They were ten times more likely to experiment with intravenous drugs. Those extrapolated figures clearly document the evidence between childhood trauma and addiction.

Looking at Treatment Options

What hope is there for people who have experienced one of more of these childhood trauma? After all, you can’t erase the past.

Substance abuse treatment professionals will tell you, however, that they help their patients to identify the traumas and recognize that they had no control over or responsibility for the traumas they underwent. For some people—someone with an addicted or abusive parent, for example—abuse continues into adulthood, and at some point they have to learn to draw boundaries so that the abuse is separated from the positive aspects of their lives.

Many people have to learn that they can’t change a negative past, and they can’t change negative parents or other family members who caused them trauma. They can, however, change themselves.  They can learn how to say, “That’s what happened, and it wasn’t my fault.” They can learn to move forward from the darkness of those days into the light of recovery.

That’s just one aspect of recovery—addressing the issues of the past that take a person into addiction in the first place. If you know someone who suffered trauma during their childhood who needs alcohol or drug addiction treatment now, or if that person is you, it’s important to find a place that will help the addict work on all aspects of himself. A residential drug treatment center offers much more than abstinence therapy: There are opportunities to face the ghosts of the past, and therapeutic options that help a person open up to the positive benefits of treatment.  Contact an admission counselor at Vista Taos Renewal Center today for more information at 1.800.245.8267.

Share this post