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Can Childhood Trauma Lead to Addiction?

Can childhood trauma lead to addiction later in life? Unfortunately, yes it can. Many people with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) deal with underlying physical and mental health issues throughout their lives. It is never too late to get help, and you can treat your addiction to start living a happy and healthy life today.

What Is Trauma?

Trauma is a response to a dangerous, distressing, or disturbing life event. You can experience trauma following one incident or after years of adverse life events. Some people develop a mental health disorder known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which causes symptoms like hyper-emotional reactivity, depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances.

The following life events could be considered traumatic:

  • Car accidents
  • Physical or sexual assault
  • Childhood sexual or physical abuse
  • Natural disasters, like floods, wildfires, or pandemics
  • Witnessing acts of violence
  • Unexpected death of a loved one
  • Hospitalization for either physical or mental health
  • Bullying

Rarely do two people experience traumatic events in the same way. Some people might move on quickly following the event, while others take years to overcome their trauma. It is crucial to understand that you will heal at your own pace. You can reach out for help when you struggle to move on following a traumatic experience.

What Kinds of Trauma Do Children Experience? 

Children can be susceptible to trauma because they cannot deal with threatening experiences on their own. When a caregiver is neglectful or abusive, they might not have a safe space to retreat when facing trauma in the outside world. When you grow up feeling unsafe or insecure in your home, you might struggle to feel secure in your adult relationships.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) as “potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood (0-17 years).” 

The CDC lists the following examples of ACEs:

  • Victim of violence, neglect, or abuse 
  • Witness to violence in your home or community
  • Family member attempting or dying by suicide
  • Growing up in a home environment undermining your safety and stability due to issues like:
    • Substance abuse in the home
    • Caregiver or another family member with physical or mental health issues
    • Divorce, separation, or conflicts between parents
    • Caregiver incarcerated or dealing with legal issues

Since children depend upon their caregivers to help them feel safe and secure, they might not feel safe anywhere when these needs are unmet at home. They can struggle to handle stress at school, find it difficult to trust adults, and develop mental health issues related to these stressors.

Long-Term Effects on Development

Childhood trauma can lead to adverse long-term effects on a person’s development into adulthood. Your brain continues to develop into adulthood, yet many brain processes begin developing during childhood. Children growing up with trauma develop a brain that becomes wired to anticipate stress and adversity. 

Childhood trauma can cause you to feel overly reactive to negative emotions, or you might become numb to cope with stressful events. When children grow up in neglectful or abusive households, they might struggle in school without a supportive environment to work on their academic development. These issues can lead to failing classes, being held back, or dropping out of school altogether.

Young adults dealing with childhood trauma could struggle to form healthy relationships. Intimate relationships require you to embrace vulnerability and share your inner feelings with others. Children growing up with neglectful caregivers might have never learned to reach out for help because no one was there for them growing up. As adults, they could continue to struggle with these issues, leading to unhealthy behaviors like drug and alcohol abuse to cope.

The Link Between Trauma and Addiction

Trauma is a common underlying cause of addictive behaviors. When children grow up in traumatic environments, they might turn to substances to cope with stress or numb themselves from distressing memories or events. Substances affect the central nervous system, which is often hyperactive for those with trauma disorders. Drugs and alcohol can be a quick fix to regulate an overactive central nervous system.

When substances become the only thing that a child can rely on to feel good, they can become addicted. Without healthy coping skills, supportive relationships, and guidance, you might be susceptible to harmful behaviors to deal with stressful life events. Long-term therapy, peer support, and healthy lifestyle habits can help you heal from addiction resulting from childhood trauma.

Even if you dealt with trauma throughout your entire childhood, you can still get help to relearn how to feel safe, happy, and secure. It’s never too late to reverse the adverse effects of childhood trauma.

Treating Addiction From Childhood Trauma in Nashville

Addiction is a complex brain disease with several causes that might begin during childhood. You might have grown up feeling unsafe in your home or had parents resorting to drugs and alcohol to cope with adversity. At Brentwood Springs Detox of Nashville, TN, we understand the complexities of addiction and how childhood trauma can play in developing a substance use disorder. Our compassionate staff is here to help you heal in a safe and supportive environment. Call us today or visit our admissions page to get started.

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