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Childhood Trauma and Addiction

One of the biggest triggers for substance abuse is trauma. This is because individuals that suffer from trauma often turn to substance abuse to cope. Trauma in any stage of life can cause a person to feel the need to abuse substances to cope. Still, childhood trauma particularly causes this effect. Thus, childhood trauma and addiction are often correlated.

How Childhood Trauma Affects the Brain

During childhood, the brain isn’t fully developed yet. As a result, the brain responds and adapts to environmental stimulation. This means that certain environmental experiences can cause changes to the brain. These changes will affect the way the brain further develops from that point on. 

This is especially true since the brain builds neural connections that are based on environmental stimulation as it grows and matures. The developmental changes that occur to the brain due to environmental stimulation are called plasticity. 

Both positive and negative life experiences during childhood and adolescence can affect how the brain ultimately develops and responds to certain environmental stimulation in adulthood. This is because the brain builds neural connections as it grows and matures. Therefore, traumatic experiences during childhood can cause the brain to develop in a manner that makes people respond to certain environmental stimulation in negative ways from that point on. 

Childhood traumas cause many people to have strong negative responses to certain environmental stimulation. As a result, people feel the need to abuse substances to cope. Furthermore, childhood trauma can lead to alterations in one’s brain structure that causes cognitive, behavioral, and social impairments. 

How Childhood Trauma Affects People in Adulthood

As mentioned earlier, when people experience traumas during childhood, they have more lasting effects on people’s future development. This is because the brains of people during childhood and adolescence aren’t fully developed yet. 

Thus, any environmental stimulation can cause alterations in a brain’s plasticity. Such brain alterations affect the way the brain develops from that point on up through adulthood. 

Childhood traumas also affect how people develop into adults. This is because, during childhood, people have little life experiences and frames of reference that can help them effectively process what they’ve been through. During childhood, people also don’t fully understand themselves. As a result, experiencing trauma during this stage of life can easily alter who a person becomes in adulthood. 

Negative Effects of Childhood Trauma in Adulthood

Oftentimes, the traumas that people experience during childhood are at the hands of loved ones and adults. As a result, such children often grow into adults who no longer trust others. 

Many people that suffer from childhood trauma also struggle to respect authority. 

This is because of the trauma that was inflicted on them by adults and authority figures that they should have been able to trust and confide in. 

Individuals that experience childhood trauma also often struggle to support themselves emotionally as adults. This is because their emotional development was stunted by traumatic experiences during childhood. 

As a way for a person that has experienced childhood trauma and thus is emotionally stunted to emotionally support him or herself, he or she might turn to substance abuse. This is especially true when faced with emotional triggers. 

When people that experience childhood trauma starts abusing substances to cope with stress and emotional triggers, they will likely develop substance addictions. Thus, such people’s emotional triggers will have also turned into addiction triggers. 

Before such people know it, their childhood traumas and substance addictions will become codependent on one another to function. Once that happens, such people need to attend dual diagnosis treatment for childhood trauma and addiction.

Common Side Effects of Childhood Trauma

People can exhibit a wide range of behaviors due to their childhood trauma. Many of the behaviors that people that suffer from childhood trauma exhibit are because their trauma caused them to not feel safe as children. Therefore, such people developed certain behaviors to survive and cope. 

For example, people that suffer from childhood trauma may become overly sensitive to the moods of others. They may also become overly secretive and withhold their emotions from others to protect themselves. This is especially true when people that suffer from childhood trauma face any sort of physical or emotional threat.

Many of the protective behaviors that people that suffer from childhood trauma exhibit have helped them survive in childhood while still experiencing trauma. In adulthood though, these behaviors often start acting as hindrances to living full healthy lives. 

Some of the more specific side effects of childhood trauma that act as hindrances in adulthood include the following:

Mistrust Due to Poor Attachments and Relationships in Childhood

When children experience trauma due to some sort of abuse from adults, they learn that they are bad. They also learn that the world and the people in it can’t be trusted. This is the opposite of what children need to learn to develop healthy relationship skills. When children aren’t abused and in close relationships with adult caregivers, they are given the safety that they need to learn how to healthily attach to others, regulate their emotions, and interact with the world.  

People that experience childhood trauma specifically struggle to form healthy relationships with caregivers and people of authority. This is due to not having healthy relationships with adults in childhood.  Furthermore, people that experience childhood trauma becomes more vulnerable to stress than the average person. As a result, they may react more violently and aggressively to stressful situations. 

Ultimately, people that suffer from childhood trauma develop such a level of mistrust, vulnerability to stress, and poor relationship skills that throughout the rest of their lives they struggle to form healthy romantic relationships, friendships, relationships with teachers, bosses, and authority figures, and more. 

Poor Physical Health

People that experience childhood trauma grows up and develop under a constant level of stress. Such constant high levels of stress can affect a person’s hormone levels and immune system. As a result, such people often develop in an unhealthy manner. 

The body of a person that suffers from childhood trauma constantly feeling as if it is going through extreme stress can even cause that person’s body to shut down. Other physiological responses that the body can have to constant extreme levels of stress due to childhood trauma include feelings of anxiety, rapid heartbeat, rapid breathing, and just overall poor health. As a result, people that experienced childhood trauma are more susceptible to developing chronic illnesses. 

People that suffer from childhood trauma and constant stress may also become hypersensitive to sounds, smells, touch, and light. This is especially true if such sensations trigger memories of trauma. 

On the flip side, some people that experience childhood trauma may develop a sense of anesthesia or analgesia. Anesthesia and analgesia cause people to become more numb and unaware of physical touch, pain, or sensations. As a result, some people that experience childhood trauma may tend to accidentally injure themselves. 

Because people that suffer from childhood trauma are under constant stress, they are more likely to abuse substances to cope. Such substance abuse only worsens the health of people with childhood trauma. Furthermore, such substance abuse can lead to the development of the dual diagnosis of childhood trauma and addiction. 

Poor Emotional Responses

As already briefly mentioned, people that suffer from childhood trauma often struggle to emotionally express themselves appropriately. This is partly because people that experience childhood trauma often has poor impulse control. For example, it’s not uncommon for people that experience childhood trauma to lash out in violent or aggressive manners. 

It’s also not uncommon for people that experience childhood trauma to struggle with anxiety and depression. People that experience childhood trauma may even isolate themselves from others in an unhealthy manner whenever they feel anything. 

Extreme Dissociation

People that experience childhood trauma rarely trusts others. As a result, many people with childhood traumas dissociate themselves from others. A such dissociation is often a form of self-protection. 

Dissociating from others is sometimes a good thing.  People with childhood traumas that do it often do it to an extreme degree that hinders them from developing deeper bonds in life.

Poor Cognitive Abilities

Because childhood trauma alters people’s brains, many people that experience childhood trauma also suffers from poor cognitive abilities. Therefore, many people with childhood trauma struggle to think, reason, and problem solve.

People with childhood trauma may also struggle with language development and abstract reasoning skills. Childhood trauma may even affect people’s brains so much that they develop learning difficulties that require them to receive academic support. 

Poor Self-Worth

People that experience childhood trauma often feels worthless due to neglect and abuse at a young age. As a result, many people that experience childhood trauma blame themselves for their abuse. This causes people that suffer from childhood trauma to develop a low sense of self-worth. 


People that experience childhood trauma perceives the world and everyone in it as being dangerous and bad. As a result, it doesn’t take much for people that suffer from childhood trauma to be pessimistic about the future. 

Many people that suffer from childhood trauma develop a sense of hopelessness. Such hopelessness causes people with childhood trauma to not only think negatively about the future but also to think negatively about themselves.  

Childhood Trauma and Addiction

Many different forms of childhood trauma can cause people to abuse substances and develop substance addictions. This is partly due to trauma causing people to want to abuse substances to cope. This is also partly due to people with childhood trauma and addiction having poor impulse control. 

Childhood trauma can come in many different forms. For example, parental neglect, domestic or physical violence, and even caring for other close family members with mental or physical illnesses while a child is all forms of childhood trauma. Some people even model their substance use behaviors after other adults with substance use disorders that they’ve encountered throughout their childhood. 

The stress that people that undergo repeated childhood trauma experience often impedes their brain development. It also often causes people that suffer from childhood trauma to experience physiological stress responses. 

Over time, these physiological stress responses can cause literal brain alterations while the brain is further developing. These brain alterations often make people biologically more susceptible to developing substance use disorders, thus further building the connection between childhood trauma and addiction. 

People that experience childhood trauma is at high risk of developing substance use disorders. This is because of the physiological connection that often occurs between childhood trauma and addiction This is evident by the fact that two-thirds of people with substance use disorders have also experienced some type of physical or sexual traumatic experience during childhood. Because it’s so common for people with childhood traumas to develop substance use disorders, people that have experienced childhood traumas should avoid abusing substances as a preventative measure. 

Dual Diagnosis Treatment for People With Childhood Trauma and Addiction

People that suffer from childhood trauma that abuse substances and develop substance use disorders should receive treatment. Because the childhood trauma and substance addiction that such people suffer from impact one another, such people should treat both their childhood trauma and addiction simultaneously in dual diagnosis treatment. 

Dual diagnosis treatment is a rehab program that simultaneously treats two conditions. At addiction treatment centers, the two conditions that dual diagnosis programs treat are substance use disorders and mental health conditions such as childhood trauma. 

Treating childhood trauma and addiction through dual diagnosis treatment is necessary. This is because the two conditions are codependent and thus greatly impact one another. Therefore, if a person chooses to treat the conditions one at a time, the condition that isn’t being treated will immediately trigger the re-occurrence of the condition that was just treated. 

This means that if a person chooses to first attend addiction treatment without also receiving treatment for his or her childhood trauma, the untreated childhood trauma will cause the person to want to abuse substances again. On the flip side, if a person chooses to treat his or her childhood trauma without simultaneously treating his or her substance addiction, the lingering substance addiction will trigger the person to experience the negative effects of childhood trauma again. Therefore, the only real treatment option for a person that is suffering from both childhood trauma and addiction is dual diagnosis treatment.  

Receive Dual Diagnosis Treatment for Childhood Trauma and Addiction At Phoenix Rising Recovery

Here at Phoenix Rising Recovery, we strive to provide patients with recovery options that revitalize their minds and bodies. This is especially true when treating a dual diagnosis such as childhood trauma and addiction. 

Luckily, we here at Phoenix Rising offer a wide variety of addiction treatment programs and therapies that can help treat both trauma and substance addiction. This includes therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy. This also includes specialized addiction treatment programs for a wide variety of substances. Therefore, regardless of what substance a person is addicted to while simultaneously suffering from childhood trauma, he or she can receive dual diagnosis treatment at our rehab facility. 

To learn more about Phoenix Rising Recovery and the different addiction treatment programs, therapies, and services that we offer, contact us today. We would love to hear from you.