Childhood Trauma and Substance Abuse in Adulthood Essay

By: Lauren Gonder
CA 401 Child Advocacy II: Responses, Dr.QuandaStevenson

Children are precious yet pliable beings. Children develop through their experiences both physically and psychologically. These experiences calibrate the brain and the body to prepare us for the different environments we face. If a child is brought up in a home where they are constantly being abused and/or neglected, they are programed into learning to take care of themselves. Emotional problems arise when a child is faced with abuse and/or neglect. As they grow older, they may beledto become a part ofa badcrowd, to feellike they are a part of something,or to self-medicatetoblock unwanted feelings. There has been a resurgence in the understanding of what makes a person addicted. Early childhood trauma may be the link to substance abuse in adulthood because of neurological anomalies and emotional trauma.

Brain plasticity is the brain’s ability to change at any age, whether it be for the best or the worst. How the braindevelops and its physical structure can be affected by one’s experiences, positive or negative. Positive experiences, like a nurturing upbringing, is where a child will thrive in most conditions. Negative experiences, like abuse and/or neglect, causeselevated levelsof stress and can obstruct the brain’s development. Not all stress is bad, though. Our brain works like a muscle and learning requires a small amount of stress. It’s when the stress is too large, too often, or too erratic for one person to control. Child maltreatment effects the brain’snormalstructure that impact cognitive, behavioral, and socialattributes. Studies have proven that children who are mistreated are the causesfor thehigh levelsof stress with in turn causesdisruptions in the brain’snormalstructure. Thesedisruptions have been studied in neurological scans proving victims of trauma are vulnerable to substance abuse.

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Emotional or psychological trauma is a form of damage to the mind that occursas a result ofa severely distressing event. Neglect, loss of a parent, witnessing domestic violence, and having a family member who suffers from a mental illness are just a few of the occurrences thatpromote emotional trauma. The study of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) was studied and proven that different stress-producing experiences that occur during childhood are the explanations of substance abuse and other forms of impulsive disorders. The study calculated the amount of ACE’s a person endured, and depending on the quantity of experiences, the greater the probability of becoming an alcoholic or intravenous drug user. The experiences that are extremely traumatic for children are much less traumatic for adults. Children are limited in their ability to make contextual interpretations, lack a frame of reference, and have difficulties making sense of these experiences. Significant occurrences have a lasting effect on children and are more likely to linger. Children are supposed to be able to rely on their loved ones for support, but when a child’s loved ones are the center of the abuse, neglect, or other trauma, family support is not an option. When a person is faced with a difficult situation and has no one to turn to, they will use alcohol or drugs to lessen the effects of being victimized. Self-medication is also modeled from a potential family member’s substance abuse.

Having a substance abuse problem on top of early traumatic eventsonly makes recovery that much harder. Having a working knowledge of the events that lead up to substance abuse can better assist medical professionals in the recovery of these dual-disorders. In addition, knowing that early childhood traumatic experiences provoke substance abuse and other reckless addictions, the federal and state institutions, andsocietyas a whole, canwork towards preventing child maltreatment. Parents need to be aware of their stresses in knowing that they can be the defining factor in how their child’s brain develops. Putting a stopto child maltreatment can reduce the amount of people who develop substance abuse disorders and in turn reduce other contributing factors that hinder society.
BIBLIOGRAPHYFelitti, V. J. (2004, February 16). The Origins of Addiction: Evidence from the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study.ACE Study Article. Retrieved from
Gregorie, C. (2016, January 27). Why This Doctor Believes Addictions Start In Childhood. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from
NCTSN. (2008, June). Making the Connection: Trauma and Substance Abuse. Retrieved from
O’Leary, D. (2017). The Unfortunate Connection Between Childhood Trauma and Addiction in Adulthood. Retrieved from
Putnam, F. W. (2006). The Impact of Trauma on Child Development.Juvenile and Family Court Journal, 1-11.

Sack, D. (2012, March 22). Emotional Trauma: An Often Overlooked Root of Addiction. Retrieved from
Szalavitz, M. (2011, September 25). How Childhood Trauma Creates Life-long Adult Addicts. Retrieved from


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