Early childhood trauma can profoundly affect a person’s ability to cope with substance use disorder (SUD). In addition, co-occurring mental health issues related to trauma can significantly impact recovery. According to Depression and Anxiety, “Ample evidence has shown that childhood trauma compromises neural structure and function, rendering an individual susceptible to later cognitive deficits and psychiatric illnesses, including schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder, [post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)], and substance abuse.” Newport Beach Recovery Center empowers clients to overcome trauma related to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) using evidence-based treatments

The Connection Between Early Childhood Trauma and Substance Abuse 

Early childhood trauma is an umbrella term that covers a wide range of possible ACEs, including: 

  • Sexual abuse or exploitation
  • Witnessing domestic abuse or other traumatic events
  • Physical, emotional, or verbal abuse 
  • Not having access to necessities like consistent housing, clothing, and food
  • Physical or emotional neglect 
  • Witnessing or experiencing emotionally distressing events like the death of a loved one or a natural disaster
  • Chronic stress 
  • Racism
  • Bullying or harassment by peers 
  • Living in a war zone or area of high conflict 

The brain continues to develop until the mid-20s. Early childhood experiences have a significant impact on the development and structure of the brain. When a person’s gone through a significant number of ACEs, the prolonged stress caused by those experiences can trigger SUD.

Adverse Childhood Experiences and Co-occurring Disorders

According to the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, “Childhood traumas, particularly those that are interpersonal, intentional, and chronic are associated with greater rates of” the following: 

  • PTSD
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety 
  • Antisocial behaviors 

All of these conditions can make treating SUD more complicated and difficult. They involve treatment for multiple disorders at once.

Early Childhood Trauma Can Restructure the Brain 

Children who witness or live through traumatic events may experience structural changes in some regions of the brain, including: 

  • Hippocampus
  • Amygdala 
  • Corpus callosum
  • Cerebellum 

Children are incredibly resilient. If they get early treatment, it may not have a lasting effect. However, adults who struggle with untreated trauma-related issues may require more in-depth mental health treatment. Newport Beach Recovery Center uses individual and group therapy to help clients address substance abuse and underlying issues like trauma. 

Trauma-Focused Therapy and Treatment Options 

Adults struggling with the effects of untreated childhood trauma often benefit from trauma therapy. Many programs use a combination of therapy, peer support, and prescription medication to manage symptoms like panic, depression, and anxiety. During rehabilitation, a person needs to address any underlying trauma that may have contributed to the development of their SUD. Accepting, processing, and reintegrating those memories and events increases the effectiveness of treatment. 

Some therapy options for individuals with PTSD and other trauma-related disorders include: 

  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) 
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Exposure therapy (ET)
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) 
  • Alternative holistic therapies 

Psychotherapy is the cornerstone of trauma treatment, and many people make significant progress through talk therapy alone. However, using psychotherapy alongside EMDR or other techniques can significantly speed up the healing process during rehabilitation. 

What Impacts Trauma Symptoms

The symptoms of early childhood trauma vary in type and severity depending on a wide range of factors, including: 

  • Type of trauma 
  • Family mental health history 
  • If the trauma was previously treated or left untreated 
  • How many instances of trauma 

Trauma symptoms often overlap with SUD and can contribute to the development of substance abuse. Every case is unique, and personalized trauma-informed care usually ensures the best possible outcome. 

Managing Symptoms of Early Childhood Trauma

Some common symptoms of childhood trauma include: 

  • Unhealthy attachment styles 
  • Underdeveloped social and communication skills 
  • Difficulty trusting others, especially authority figures 
  • Anxiety 
  • Depression 
  • Panic 
  • Self-harm or suicidal ideation
  • Sleep disturbances 
  • Changes to appetite and eating patterns 
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships 

Coping skills like mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing exercises, and relying on a support system can reduce the severity of symptoms. Talk therapy is one of the most valuable tools for healing from trauma. Newport Beach Recovery Center offers trauma therapy for every client. We believe, in most cases, SUD develops due to the presence of trauma.  

Healing and Thriving

Overcoming issues related to ACEs requires patience and a determination to change. However, a person can successfully heal and thrive during recovery. Rehabilitation in a dual diagnosis system allows them to reprocess trauma in a safe and structured environment with a reduced risk of relapse. 

Most people make major life changes after attending treatment. In addition to no longer abusing substances, they often do the following: 

  • Cut off toxic relationships with individuals related to past substance abuse
  • Set clear boundaries at work, school, and home to ensure positive mental health 
  • Change eating, exercise, and sleep patterns 
  • Repair relationships with loved ones 
  • Find new hobbies and activities to replace the time previously spent misusing substances 

Accepting the current circumstances and finding healthy solutions for improving your lifestyle will help you thrive during recovery. Decisions an individual makes during treatment and aftercare can impact how quickly they learn to manage trauma-related challenges. The Newport Beach Recovery Center care team provides each client with a comprehensive aftercare plan to guide them through these essential changes. People can build a happier, healthier future for themselves and their loved ones. 

Early childhood trauma can play a significant role in the development of substance use and mental health disorders. Untreated childhood trauma can affect how adults think about themselves and interact with people around them. Treatment for trauma-related issues usually involves a combination of psychotherapy and prescription medication. Childhood traumas impact development, and many clients in treatment for SUD require simultaneous trauma therapy and essential life skills education to address these issues. Newport Beach Recovery Center uses evidence-based methods to treat trauma. Our care team collaborates with clients to ensure they feel supported and have the tools they need to heal. Find out more about our programs by calling us today at (888) 850-0363.