Childhood Traumas Haunt Many into Adulthood

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It’s a widely accepted theory that some people are more susceptible to addiction than others. Many of those “at-risk” are labeled as such due to specific genetic or neurological issues. However, a recent study indicates that traumatic experiences during childhood can play a major role in predicting whether someone develops a drug or alcohol addiction in adulthood.

Childhood Problems Stick with You

Utilizing data from a wide range of other research projects, scientists concluded that mistreatment or stressful events experienced during the first few years of a child’s life most certainly affect his or her adult life. In fact, these traumatic experiences are directly related to problem drinking in adolescence and drug/alcohol addiction in adulthood.

So, what is it that puts these kids at risk for addiction in adulthood? According to the data, addiction is partially triggered by changes in the brain and alterations to dopamine reward pathways – both of which stem from early life stress. However, researchers also point out that some of the children who had experienced early life stress did not develop an addiction, noting that positive relationships with family and peers likely played a factor in whether future addictions were developed.

Findings of this study were published in the journal Psychopharmacology.

Supporting Data 

Other studies dating as far back as the ’90s have also yielded similar results. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study was released in 1998 and included 17,000 people who were each part of California’s Kaiser Permanente Insurance Program. They successfully linked childhood stress with a higher likelihood of adulthood addiction, both with substances and compulsive behaviors like binge eating.

Some of the more disturbing findings included:

  • Those with six or more ACE’s were three times as likely to become smokers than the children with no ACE’s.
  • Kids with four or more ACE’s were five times more likely to become an alcoholic, while boys in this category were 46 times more likely to use intravenous drugs.
  • Specific adverse experiences weren’t the catalyst for later addiction, but rather the effects of multiple types of stress added up over time.

Some Things Never Change

Not surprisingly, most of the early 90s findings still hold true today…despite the fact that decades have passed.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) released data in March 2012 that clearly illustrated the link between traumatized children and their higher risk of becoming alcoholics in adulthood.

After surveying 196 people who were receiving treatment for alcoholism, NIDA found that one-fourth of the men and one-third of the women had experienced physical abuse during childhood. What’s more, nearly half of the women had also experienced sexual abuse.

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