Childhood Trauma Can Lead to Addiction

Childhood Trauma Can Lead to Addiction

Research has proven time and time again that addiction is, in fact, a disease and not merely a choice or character flaw. As a result, more light is being shed on how early childhood trauma can lead people to drug misuse later on in life. Science has looked to find every possible link that could connect someone’s lived experience to recreational drug experimentation that eventually leads to a substance use disorder. This research is an attempt to gain a better perspective on how much addiction is affected by nature vs. nurture.

Early Brain Development

Much of the information surrounding social and experiential circumstances shows that early childhood physical and psychological development plays a major role in the risk level for addiction later on in life. This connection is likely due to the way mistreatment, abuse, or hardship in early life affects neuroplasticity, causing the brain’s growth to adapt to environmental factors. This reaction is the body’s survival method while it is also undertaking vital growth phases such as speaking, walking, and other human functions. When the brain is overloaded with trauma in those early years, it can become overwhelmed when dealing with negative experiences, significantly impeding progress in other areas.

Lasting Trauma

The most prevalent sources of adverse childhood experiences found in individuals with an increased likelihood to misuse substances stem from physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, neglect, and death of a loved one, and other high-stress circumstances. Children who face abuse or neglect at the hands of their caretakers lack a vital bonding process in early childhood that can become a detriment to attachment styles within intrapersonal relationships later in life. Along with witnessing recreational drug experimentation at home or by a parent, these occurrences can push someone to seek substance misuse as a way to numb lasting effects and memories of mistreatment from childhood to adulthood.


While negative early developmental life experiences may be seemingly manageable to overcome for adults, kids are not equipped with the mechanisms to understand and process these situations. Lasting emotional and physical trauma in children can often lead to recreational drug experimentation at younger ages for children who experience trauma than their peers who do not share such experiences. With this knowledge, public drug prevention programs can focus on such factors to raise awareness about the children who are at higher risk, helping caretakers, teachers, and other adults who work with children see the signs of abuse or resulting behavior from trauma at home. This information can potentially help concerned adults or mandatory reporters intervene before recreational drug experimentation begins, or early enough to prevent advanced misuse that could lead to addiction down the line.

Substance use disorder treatment that provides counseling focusing on past traumatic experiences starting from childhood can vastly improve a patient’s chances of achieving long-lasting recovery. Resolving suppressed pain resulting from abuse or neglect helps those struggling with addiction understand what may have led them to develop the disease. The resolution of suppressed trauma also helps provide tools and healthy coping mechanisms for patients to use while rebuilding their lives in treatment and recovery.

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