Ways Childhood Trauma Contributes to Addiction - California Behavioral Health
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Ways Childhood Trauma Contributes to Addiction

Childhood trauma is something that most people in the United States can relate to, regardless of their age. That is because, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an average of 60% of Americans have experienced a traumatic event in their childhood. The CDC also reports that trauma and the effects of it are linked to eight out of the 10 top leading causes of death in the nation, reporting that trauma, on average, shorten’s a person’s lifespan by 19 years. And while we have more resources now than ever before to help address the issues connected to traumatic events, childhood trauma is still occurring and flying under the radar, giving way to a whole slew of potential future challenges for our youngest generations. 

Types of Childhood Trauma

Children, especially young children, have minds like clay that can be easily molded by those around them. That is why there is so much emphasis on parents, teachers, and members of communities to care for, teach, and empower children to be their best selves. Unfortunately, even the most well-meaning adults can expose their children to trauma or even cause it themselves. Some of the most common types of childhood trauma stem from events related to, but not limited to, the following:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • Sudden loss of a loved one
  • Neglect
  • Abandonment
  • Community violence
  • Accidents

As the world continues to rapidly change, children are experiencing types of trauma that are directly related to the times we are living in. Some of these types of trauma include:

  • Bullying at school and outside of school, such as online and via text message
  • Natural disasters, including hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires, all of which are on the rise due to global warming
  • School shootings, regardless of if they happen in their schools or not
  • Domestic terrorism, such as the rise of white supremacy groups and violent rioters
  • The coronavirus pandemic, which has completely altered the everyday lives of children in regards to their schooling, social life, and hobbies 

Experiencing even just one of these traumatic events can completely change the course of a child’s life. Unfortunately, many children experience more than just one traumatic event. The National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) reports that nearly half of the children currently living in America have experienced at least one or more types of trauma thus far in their lives. And, even though there are more resources available to help children heal from the trauma they have experienced, there are still millions of children who never receive that help. For those children, their risk for becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol increases exponentially. 

How Does Childhood Trauma Contribute to Addiction?

It is more common than not to see people receiving addiction and trauma treatment who have a past history of childhood trauma specifically. That is because experiencing trauma in childhood dramatically increases a child’s risk of abusing drugs and alcohol in the future. But why?

The connection between childhood trauma and addiction can be traced back to a child’s brain development. With or without trauma present, a child’s brain modifies itself based on the child’s experiences. As they grow, the brain develops synapses, eliminates neurons that make certain connections in the brain related to the child’s experiences, and experiences alterations to the physical structure of certain areas of the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex. All of these development responses are directly related to a child’s experiences. Therefore, when a child experiences trauma, the brain may undergo a change that permanently alters the way a child functions emotionally, physically, or psychologically. 

It is unrefuted that trauma causes negative changes in the brain. While we can’t see these changes occurring in real time, we can see the effects that develop as a result of the traumatic event or events. The effects on the brain that occur due to changes in function and structure can produce several effects in children.

Poor mental health

A traumatic event, especially one that occurs outside of a child’s control, can quickly trigger anxious feelings and behaviors. If they go untreated, the child can develop an anxiety disorder that becomes difficult to manage independently. Anxiety in children often causes headaches, gastrointestinal problems, excessive shyness, hypochondria, and irrational thinking patterns. Constantly feeling anxious can become too much to bear, making drugs and alcohol more enticing to use, as they can help reduce these symptoms and fast. 

The desire to use drugs and alcohol is the same for those children who have developed depression when they were young or who have been growing up with mood disorder. Typically, the more severe the trauma is, the more severe the depression becomes. When depressed, people tend to stop taking care of themselves, engage in careless behaviors, and struggle to find much joy in their everyday lives. The emotional pain that can develop in response to that alone can be so overwhelming that drinking or using drugs to numb that pain can seem like a viable solution. 

Poor coping skills 

One of the best ways to avoid abusing drugs and alcohol is to ensure that you have appropriate coping skills. Unfortunately, many children who experience trauma do not have adults around them to help them develop those coping skills, leaving them left to figure it out on their own. Unfortunately, by the time their brains are fully developed, they have likely already found ways to cope with adversity that are not effective, such as using drugs and alcohol. 

Mimicking learned behaviors

Trauma does not usually start with the child, rather it is an event or events that happen to the child because of outside influences. For example, a young boy who is physically abused by his father is not being abused just because his father “felt like it.” Instead, he is likely being abused because his father may be experiencing some level of mental and/or emotional pain that is preventing him from parenting in a healthy manner. Unfortunately, children mimic their parents’ behaviors, as they are their main role models. Therefore, it is common for a young boy who was abused as a child to grow up and abuse his own children, despite knowing the pain that being abused can cause. Traumatic events that are chronic, such as physical abuse, are most frequently linked to drug and alcohol addiction, as the children exposed to the violence were not provided with a healthy environment growing up. Without a positive role model showing a young child the way, it can be easy for a child who is traumatized to gravitate towards quick and easy fixes for their pain. 

Being traumatized even just one time is enough to completely and entirely scar a child on an emotional level. If that emotional distress is never addressed (which is many cases it is not), addiction can develop when that child begins experimenting with drugs and alcohol.

Are You in Need of Professional Addiction and Trauma Treatment?

Experiencing trauma at any age can increase your risk for becoming an addict, but the good news is, you do not need to accept that as your fate. If you are ready to stop abusing drugs or alcohol and begin healing from the inside out, call us right now. Our addiction and trauma treatment program can help you overcome your challenges and begin living a happy, healthy life.


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