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Association between childhood trauma and substance abuse as adults

Association between childhood trauma and substance abuse as adults

12-30 | CDAH Team

Traumatic childhood experiences can impact a person’s mental health. It can affect the way the child interacts with the world, his/her ability to trust others, regulate emotions and the overall development. In the United States, the rate of traumatic life experiences has been rising substantially and it is considered a major public health concern as early exposure to trauma can increase the risk of developing psychiatric disorders in adulthood like schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse.

According to the National Survey of Adolescents, individuals who experienced physical or sexual abuse in their adolescence were three times more likely to admit past or current substance abuse than those without a history of trauma. Also, 70 percent adolescents treated for substance abuse reported experiencing trauma in their childhood.

As per studies, traumatic experiences during adolescence have a different impact on males and females. According to experts, traumatic experiences increase the risk of substance use disorders (SUDs) in adolescent girls but not in adolescent boys. In women, emotional abuse, sexual abuse or assault was linked to lifetime use of cocaine along with marijuana. Physically and emotionally abused male victims were linked to lifetime or current indulgence in cocaine and heroin.

Commonly abused substances

Some people who face childhood trauma try to cope with its effects by drinking heavily, abusing drugs or smoking excessively. Individuals with PTSD have more problems with substances before as well as after they are diagnosed with it. Eventually, the use of these substances can lead to the development of SUDs and the treatment must also take into account co-occurring disorders.

As per a study by the Grady Memorial Hospital, General Medical and OB/GYN clinics Atlanta, GA, conducted on 587 young adults, marijuana was the most commonly abused substance (44.8 percent), followed by alcohol (39 percent), cocaine (34.1 percent) and, heroin and opioid prescription drugs (6.2 percent).

The impact of a traumatic event during childhood can be felt in adult life and in some cases when the individual does not receive the right support, the effects of childhood trauma can last a lifetime. Research has demonstrated the potential effects of such trauma and neglect on mental health can pave the way for other mental disorders to fester later in the individual’s life such as depression, anxiety disorders, poor self-esteem, aggressive behavior, suicide attempts, eating disorders, PTSD, self-harming behaviors, personality disorders, etc. Unfortunately, such individuals are also likely to have poor physical health and it is believed that they are at a greater risk of having more than one medical condition.

According to a 2016 study, domestic violence involving constant fights between parents’ can cause trauma to a child that can result in depression in later life and also lead to drinking problems. The study also showed that there was an association between childhood trauma and adulthood prescription pain reliever misuse (PPRM) as well as injection drug use (IDU).

Path to recovery

If you or a loved one is coping with traumatic experiences and is struggling with drug addiction, it is imperative to seek professional help. Traumatic incidents can interfere with daily activities, however, it is possible to live a full and constructive life. Understanding the relationship between past trauma and prior abuse is important for recovery. One should not delay the treatment as it can worsen the situation. Contact the Colorado Drug Addiction Helpline to get assistance in locating the best drug addiction treatment clinic in Colorado. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-218-7546 or chat online to connect to the best drug addiction treatment centers in Colorado.


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