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Childhood Trauma and Addiction

The Connection Between Childhood Trauma and Addiction

Think back to when you were a teenager. Is there a memory that has stayed with you your entire life? Maybe it was something positive like getting your first dog or making a new friend that you’ve now known for years. Or perhaps it was something negative like being in a car accident or losing someone you loved.

Childhood experiences can, and oftentimes do, impact our growth and development and follow us into adulthood. In extreme cases where trauma is involved, these experiences can lead you to substance addiction to cope.

Your teen’s addiction didn’t just happen out of the blue. In fact, chances are your teen is using drugs or alcohol to try to cope with stress and anxiety from a trauma. Find out what type of trauma your child might be dealing with and how childhood trauma can cause addiction.

What is Trauma?

In its broadest sense, trauma is an emotional reaction triggered by an event that causes psychological or physical pain or damage. Extreme traumatic experiences are things like rape, sexual assault, a car accident or physical abuse. But in many cases, trauma occurs from other things like bullying, emotional abuse, an illness or neglect.

How Does Trauma Affect Childhood Development?

The answer to this question goes back to the human brain. As an adolescent, your brain is continuing to grow and develop. Every experience you encounter helps your brain create, strengthen and break synapses, or neural connections that shape your growth and maturity.

Unfortunately, your brain doesn’t distinguish between positive and negative experiences. This means that traumatic experiences like bullying and rape leave a lasting impact on your brain.

The stress caused by these traumatic experiences prevents normal brain development and leads to cognitive and behavioral impairments as you continue to mature. This leaves adolescents like your own child susceptible to substance abuse to cope.

Childhood Trauma and Substance Addiction

For adolescents, this disruption in normal brain development just adds to their vulnerability because the pleasure center of a teen’s brain develops faster than the decision-making part of their brain. This means teens are less able to control their impulses and recognize consequences of their actions.

When you throw trauma into the mix, your teen doesn’t see all the negative consequences that come with regularly using marijuana or alcohol. Instead, your teen sees drugs or alcohol as the easiest and fastest option to forget bad memories and remove the pain and negative emotions associated with their trauma.

According to the National Institute of Health, more than a third of adolescents with a report of abuse or neglect will develop an addiction before they turn 18. As a parent, you can help your teen by recognizing signs of trauma and getting them the help they need to recover.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment at Kokua Recovery

At Kokua Recovery, we have extensive knowledge and expertise in both trauma and addiction. We know that trauma, the lack of executive functioning skills and impulse control are plaguing your teen and influencing their addiction.

That’s why we provide dual diagnosis treatment that addresses these issues to help your teen overcome addiction and the mental and behavioral issues accompanying their substance abuse.

Contact us today to learn more about our program and find out how to get your teen started.

Ken Huey

Upon graduating from Purdue with a Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy, Dr. Huey worked as a therapist, Clinical Director, and Business Development Director in residential treatment. Dr. Huey was always drawn to the large population of adoptees in residential treatment (he is adopted himself). He ultimately became convinced that this population needed specialty care and in November of 2006, Dr. Huey founded Calo. Calo grew to a 200 plus employee organization with about the same numbers of teen clients served each year. He sold Calo and retired in June of 2015. He came out of retirement in 2017 and founded Kokua Recovery, trauma-informed residential drug and alcohol treatment with sites in Colorado.

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