Did you know that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) have been recognized by health professionals as risk factors for mental health illnesses and substance use disorder (SUD)? Getting treatment for ACEs requires interventions with mental health professionals that help alleviate neurological damage. Without trauma-informed care, ACEs may drive children and young people toward substance addiction. Because of this, some health professionals are listing unresolved trauma due to ACEs as a public health issue. Society as a whole needs to be more aware of this critical connection between trauma, mental illness, and SUD.
What Are Adverse Childhood Experiences?
ACEs are stressful or traumatic events that affect children in their developmental stage. These often include abuse, neglect, violence, substance abuse, warfare, family dysfunction, or natural disasters. While specifics vary widely, what these incidents have in common is traumatic distress. If unresolved, these traumatic experiences can cause lifelong negative health outcomes.
When children are exposed to traumatic experiences like those listed above, their neurodevelopment can be negatively impacted. Their cognitive functioning and emotional regulation can become impaired. Sometimes, the emotional pain from these incidents is so acute they may lose the memory of it or develop disabilities.
Although the medical field has yet to uncover the full range of negative health outcomes caused by ACEs, there are a few common patterns including cognitive dysfunction, emotional and social impairment, risky or self-harming behaviors, disabilities, social anxiety, chronic depression, suicidal tendencies, SUD, and even early mortality.
Why Are ACEs Related to Addiction?
Childhood trauma affects the brain by creating certain structural anomalies that result in cognitive dysfunction and emotional impairment. The early years of life—up to about age 25—are full of development milestones for the human brain. These milestones include the development of social skills, emotional attachment capabilities, coping mechanisms, and stress responses.
Changes in brain chemicals from ACEs may put these individuals at a higher risk of becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol. To dampen psychological stress, people with ACEs tend to seek out drugs and alcohol to cope with problems in life. They may also seek out other risk-taking behavior and present a general disregard for personal safety. Between substances and adrenaline, people who have experienced ACEs try to stamp out the memory of bad experiences.
Additionally, people who have suffered ACEs may initiate substance use early in life, especially if they have been exposed to parental addiction. They might consider drugs and alcohol as “acceptable” options for self-medication because they have seen parents or other adults use them before.
Will ACEs Continue to Affect Recovery?
During recovery, people with ACEs usually need extra support because they may not have healthy relationships, to begin with. They need to learn healthy relationship skills. They also need to rebuild a recovery-supportive social life. Health professionals need to work through their ACEs with them because these may be the root cause of their addiction. Without addressing the root causes, the same traumatic distress may resurface and lead to relapses.
As members of society, we need to understand that behind someone’s tendency toward substance abuse, there may be hidden trauma. Substance use may be a form of comfort-seeking, a natural response to adversity experienced early on in their lives. Understanding the potential connection between childhood trauma and addiction can help the general public treat recovering individuals with respect instead of blaming and shaming them. We should not judge addiction at face value without compassion. Doing so only adds to the stigma of SUD, which creates a barrier to treatment and undermines the hard work done in treatment and recovery.
How Do You Support People With ACEs to Overcome Addiction?
There are many ways to integrate the treatment of ACEs into SUD treatment. There are trauma-informed individual and group therapy options available to help people with ACEs. Health professionals may engage people with ACEs in these activities while finding a healthy ritual as a comfort-seeking base.
In addition to treating people with ACEs and addiction, prevention of ACEs is also critical. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has ACE training available for parents and professionals. Even when ACEs cannot be prevented, schools and communities can help promote resiliency skills and supportive relationships for children. Some common resiliency skills include optimism, cognitive flexibility, active coping skills, awareness about well-being, and a sense of personal moral responsibility.
Children also need to learn how to cope with stress. The American Psychological Association (APA) distinguishes “positive stress” and “tolerable stress” from toxic stress. The first two refer to normal stress responses to ordinary situations or life-altering events. “Toxic stress” refers to common ACEs. Timely intervention and awareness help alleviate toxic stress before it becomes a risk factor for addiction.
Is your SUD related to childhood trauma? Did you know that recovery experts have proven methods to address the dual conditions of trauma-induced mental health issues and addiction? Both need to be treated for you to achieve long-term recovery. Work with trustworthy health professionals who are trauma-informed and culturally sensitive. If you are looking for a recovery center that can help you, come to Laguna Shores Recovery. Here, you will meet experienced mental health professionals and recovery experts who specialize in treating dual diagnoses, like SUD and issues stemming from ACEs. We can also coach and support family members to support their loved ones. We will walk alongside you as you enjoy the positive support from our community. Call us today to discover how we can help you heal. For more information, call (866) 229-9923. A new beginning is waiting for you.