Relationships in Recovery - Drug and Alcohol - Dual Diagnosis

The Effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences on Substance Use Disorder

The Effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences on Substance Use Disorder

Childhood trauma is a major factor in substance abuse. If you or a loved one are dealing with trauma, help is available. Read our blog to learn more.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have become increasingly more prevalent and relevant for study by scientists and clinical professionals. These professionals are noticing a connection between childhood trauma and physical and mental health issues people develop as an adult. This can be any form of witnessed or experienced trauma.

Today, we will explore the role that early childhood trauma has on one's chances of developing substance use disorder (SUD) or any other health concerns as an adult.

What Are ACEs and Why Are They Concerning?

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), ACEs include all forms of abuse and neglect. This can include:

  • Direct physical or mental abuse

  • Sexual abuse or assault

  • Natural disasters

  • Witnessing domestic violence

  • Witnessing a parent struggling with SUD

These can all be traumatizing for a child and likely require therapy and other resources for that child. 

Professionals can detect ACEs through a 10-question form that measures different types of childhood trauma. The higher the score, the more likely one is to develop SUD, a mental health disorder, or other medical conditions. 

Nearly 61% of adults from 25 states reported they had been exposed to childhood trauma. Even more heartbreaking, one in six people reported experiencing four or more different types of ACEs. Exposure to a larger scale or higher number of ACEs can lead to toxic stress. Living in unstable conditions or moving frequently increases the likelihood of having ACEs. Children thrive in environments they can count on and feel comfortable in. 

Toxic stress as a child can affect one's adult life, especially if it is chronic stress. This can potentially lead to a never-ending, generational cycle of stress and ACEs if left untreated. 

The Risk of Substance Use Disorder From Adverse Childhood Experiences

Recent studies have shown that a higher ACE score is positively associated with drug addiction. The National Library of Medicine (NLM) explains that, when comparing individuals with zero ACEs and individuals with five or more, the clients with five or more were far more likely to report illicit drug use. This specific study found that an individual's ACE score had a strong connection to their risk of drug abuse and drug addiction later on in life. Also, many people who developed addictions later in life often experiment with substance abuse in childhood, particularly with inhalants.

Children exposed to trauma are at a much higher risk than other children for SUD and mental health conditions as they grow up. The good news is that this can be prevented if caught early and handled appropriately or managed after the fact with proper treatment. 

The Best Ways to Prevent Adverse Childhood Experiences

The most important place to start when trying to prevent ACEs is education. Educating oneself and understanding the factors that can place children in harm's way will help one learn how to protect children and lower their risk of ACEs in their future.

Once one understands ACEs, one can become an advocate and educate others, and the more people who know about preventing ACEs, the better. This will lead to more awareness and more help for children and families.

The CDC compiled a list of resources and ideas on how to prevent ACEs:

  • Help strengthen financial support for families. This includes creating more family-friendly workspaces because this can reduce stress on the parents and child. 

  • Connect children with caring adults if they aren't available at home. This can happen through after-school programs, mentoring, or clubs and sports at school. Having these activities to keep them busy with other children and caring adults can really go a long way in reducing chronic home or family stress in children. 

  • Provide support options for parents struggling with mental health. It is normal for parents to be stressed out from work, children, and life now and then. However, one must look out for the signs of chronic stress or severe mental health disorders in parents. 

  • Check in with children one is close to. This could be the perfect opportunity for one to become educated on the signs and symptoms of abuse and neglect in children. In many cases, children suffering from abuse at home are left unnoticed by teachers and other people in positions of power. One must know what to look out for to properly help these children. 

In 2020, the CDC announced its funding for the prevention of ACEs. Increasing funding and awareness of ACEs can help the children and adults of the future receive help. This way, people can prevent or reduce the risk of them developing SUD due to ACEs. 

At The Edge Treatment Center, we provide many different resources to the loved ones of individuals with SUD. Find what you and your family members need through group, individual, and family therapy that we offer. 

In the end, educating yourself and others on ACEs and what to look out for in children can help reduce the risk of ACEs and protect children. For those who have already experienced the fallout of ACEs, help and treatment are available.

The Edge Treatment Center Will Help You Leave Trauma Behind

Unfortunately, it is becoming more common for people in SUD treatment to have a dual diagnosis.

Preventing ACEs can keep a child from developing a drug addiction or mental health disorder later in life. If you or a loved one needs help learning prevention strategies or recovering from SUD due to ACEs, let The Edge Treatment Center help. We make use of evidence-based, proven methods to help you move past trauma and into a happier life free from addiction.

Contact The Edge Treatment Center today to learn more.

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Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Relationships in Recovery

Drug and Alcohol

Dual Diagnosis

August 17, 2022