Tag Archives: adverse childhood experiences

Trauma, PTSD, and Substance Use Disorder

trauma

Trauma can dramatically impact the course of one’s life; if it is left unaddressed, adverse experiences can lead to premature death. A new report on mortality from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that childhood trauma is a public health issue that we must address. The report shows that one in six people across the United States has experienced four or more kinds of adverse childhood experiences or ACEs.

Trauma can take many different shapes: neglect, abuse, familial separation (i.e., adoption), and exposure to mental health or substance abuse problems. Each person is different; an event may be more traumatic for one person than it is for another. There is no way to predict how an experience will influence a young person.

Author Junot Díaz, writing for The New Yorker in a piece titled: The Legacy of Childhood Trauma, said, “Trauma is a time traveller, an ouroboros that reaches back and devours everything that came before.” His writing lays out how an adverse childhood experience influenced everything, from relationships to employment.

In the field of addiction medicine, professionals are acutely aware of the correlation between childhood trauma and substance use and abuse. Paradoxically, many will use drugs and alcohol to cope with untreated trauma, but the practice has the unintended effect of placing such people at risk of being re-traumatized. It’s a vicious cycle, an ouroboros: a snake eating its tail.

Childhood Trauma and Addiction

Traumatic events, at any point in life, can have disastrous consequences like the development of post-traumatic stress disorder. However, when traumas or ACEs occur during one’s formative years, the risk of experiencing more significant problems is much higher. A previous study from the CDC on adverse childhood experiences found:

  • For each ACE, the risk for early initiation of substance abuse increases two to four times.
  • Individuals with three or more ACEs have higher rates of depression, domestic violence, sexually transmitted diseases, and heart disease.
  • Men and women with five or more ACEs are seven to 10 times more likely to become substance abusers.
  • Almost two-thirds of intravenous drug users report ACEs in their history.

Trauma, whether it occurs as a child or in adulthood, must be addressed by professionals. Too often, the lingering effects of trauma are left untreated; PTSD becomes a person’s reality, and self-medication ensues. Drugs and alcohol can provide temporary relief, but the practice places people at risk of developing alcohol and substance-related issues. PTSD and addiction are common co-occurring disorders.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that about one-third of people exposed to trauma develop PTSD. Moreover, 75 percent of people in substance abuse treatment report having experienced abuse and trauma. While men are more likely to be exposed to traumatic events, women are at a higher risk of developing PTSD.

Veterans with PTSD and Substance Use Disorder

With Veterans Day around the corner, we must discuss rampant PTSD and substance use disorder (SUD) in the military. As we pointed out, exposure to adverse events can lead people down a precarious path. If an individual doesn’t receive care and support for their condition, then they are likely to resort to drugs and alcohol for temporary relief.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that more than 2 of 10 veterans with PTSD also have SUD. What’s more, almost 1 out of every 3 veterans seeking treatment for SUD has PTSD as well.

Fortunately, effective treatments exist to address both PTSD and SUD simultaneously. Those who experience trauma as a child or in adulthood, who develop use disorders can and do recover.

We have found that both posttraumatic stress disorder and substance use can be treated concurrently [meaning, at the same time].” — Ronald E. Acierno, Ph.D., Vice-Chair For Veteran Affairs and Executive Director Of The UTHealth Trauma And Resilience Center

Orange County Dual-Diagnosis Treatment

If you are struggling with PTSD, SUD, or both, then please contact PACE Recovery Center at your earliest convenience. We specialize in the treatment of men who face challenges related to addiction and mental health disorders. We offer several different types of programs to serve the unique needs of each client best.

Recovery begins with a phone call or email to an admissions counselor. Please take the first step: 800-526-1851.

Addiction Linked to Trauma: Finding Recovery

addiction

People who struggle with drugs and alcohol share many commonalities. While each person’s story is unique, there are many experiences that men and women in the grips of addiction share.

In the rooms of recovery, it is not uncommon for an individual to hear parts of their story when another member shares. This is because the life events that often precipitate chemical dependency have similar effects on each person’s brain. Not always, some people seem naturally equipped to better cope with adverse experiences, particularly adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Still, a large percentage of people who deal with addiction were subject to traumatic events during childhood.

Children will begin using mind-altering substances after they experience trauma 76 percent of the time, according to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

Scientists have found correlations between growing up in a chaotic household or being separated from parents via foster care or adoption and addiction. When a child’s equilibrium is disrupted, or they lose their sense of security, it can leave lasting impressions on their psyches. They may be unable to develop healthy coping skills for dealing with stress, as a result. Such scenarios can lay a foundation for the development of mental and behavioral health problems in adulthood.

The same can be said for emotional, physical, and sexual abuse; such traumatic experiences are part of many alcoholic’s and addict’s stories. When a child lacks the tools to cope or never receives professional help in the wake of abuse, they are at significant risk of looking for unhealthy means of escape.

Lifetime drug and alcohol use is positively associated with exposure to childhood physical, sexual, and emotional abuse severity, overall trauma exposure, and higher levels of emotional dysregulation, according to the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

From Trauma and Addiction to Recovery

Addiction is a complex disease that develops from many different factors; a combination of nature, nurture, and genetics play vital roles in disease progression. Even when severe trauma isn’t present, it is still possible for a person to develop an alcohol or substance use problem.

Not all addictions are rooted in abuse or trauma, but I do believe they can all be traced to painful experience,” Dr. Gabor Maté wrote in his 2010 bestseller, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction. “A hurt is at the center of all addictive behaviors.”

Fortunately, it is possible to recover from both the lasting effects of trauma and addictive disorders. At PACE Recovery Center, we have worked with many young men over the years who had ACE-related post-traumatic stress and co-occurring substance use disorders. With professional counseling that utilizes evidence-based treatments, each person can achieve lasting recovery.

One young man recently shared about his journey from addiction to healing from trauma and finding recovery. Thrive Global is an organization that helps “individuals, companies and communities improve their well-being and performance and unlock their greatest potential. One of their projects is called From Addict to Entrepreneur. As the name suggests, it involves interviewing people who have overcome their addictions to lead successful, healthy, and productive lives in recovery.

Project creator Michael Dash recently spoke with author and adventure coach Aaron Rentfrew about his traumatic past and struggles with addiction.

Dealing WIth Trauma and Finding Recovery

In a lengthy interview, Rentfrew shares about his addiction and then about his path to recovery. He says that he had a mostly normal childhood until a messy divorce left him in foster care for a year. Then he bounced between homes before finally settling with his mother in the 5th grade.

In middle school, he learned that his suspicions were correct about being molested as a child. The confirmation of abuse was the impetus for Aaron withdrawing from friends and family. He would eventually turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with his feelings; substance use helped him escape.

“What drew me deeper and deeper into my addiction was the untreated trauma from my childhood. It was a gaping wound that left me feeling empty and confused. I had trouble feeling normal without being intoxicated, and this cascaded into a life of constant drug use and abuse. I had to be completely wasted to find balance and a sense of normality.”

After years of substance abuse and heartache, Rentfrew reached out for help from a close friend. He was put in touch with other sober people, and he began working a program of recovery. Of equal importance to confronting addiction, Aaron worked on the trauma.

“I had to deal with the trauma around my childhood, which was the spark that started the fire. I did this by having frank and honest discussions with my parents and seeking to understand the full scope of what happened.”

Through dedication and hard work, Aaron was able to put his life back together and now helps others do the same. He believes that helping someone else with a problem you worked through is the cornerstone of recovery.

Specialists in Adoption-Related Treatment

At PACE Recovery Center, our dedicated team of professionals helps adult men who struggle with addiction and mental health conditions. We have created a unique program for clients whose lives are negatively impacted by the trauma that stems from adoption. Please contact us today if you were adopted and are contending with untreated mental or behavioral health issues.

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