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Adverse Childhood Experiences and Addiction Treatment

by Cedric Dent

November 5, 2022
Child undergoing adverse childhood experiences and wanting a happy family.

The connection between substance use disorders and trauma has been a focus of study for years. By appraising that correlation, experts have more or less concluded that addressing trauma in a person’s life plays a key role in the success of addiction treatment. The complexity of trauma’s correlation with drug and alcohol addiction remains somewhat enigmatic. However, what’s already understood informs how experts say addiction therapy should work.

Trauma’s Correlation with Substance Use

Trauma and its symptoms co-occur with disorders more than almost any other comorbidity encountered in substance use treatment. Charles Atkins — a psychiatrist and Yale volunteer professor — established this in his 2014 book, Co-Occurring Disorders: Integrated Assessment and Treatment of Substance Use and Mental Disorders

Atkins said Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnoses appear in those with substance use disorders five times more often than in anyone else. This implies substance use disorder (SUD) treatment is a form of therapy with a high likelihood of encountering trauma. The question then becomes whether to treat the trauma or its symptoms.

Treating trauma requires specific qualifications that aren’t conventionally deemed germane to addiction treatment. If we aim to treat the addiction, then treating the trauma experience itself usually won’t be the most efficient route. Nevertheless, treating the symptoms of that trauma becomes mandatory because addiction is presumably one of those symptoms.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Trauma

Many experts consider Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) an optimal treatment modality for any of several mental health concerns. It’s a form of talk therapy that sets a goal and maps a path to fulfilling that. This includes mapping out about how many sessions it should take to reach the goal. In other words, CBT doesn’t meander aimlessly through conversation for the patient to explore anything and everything that comes to mind. 

Being goal-oriented, CBT proves to be an optimal choice for addiction treatment. In fact, it’s gradually become the gold standard of addiction therapy in the 21st century. That’s why a 2010 study advanced the conversation to demonstrate that CBT was, in fact, earning that title.

As such, Landmark Recovery’s licensed and trained healthcare professionals practice CBT with patients. Obviously, the endgame is uprooting whatever behavioral routines contribute to a patient’s addiction. Therapists start patients out by focusing their attention on unproductive thoughts they typically have. Those thoughts have to be exposed.

Practitioners expose patients unproductive thoughts in the context of addiction so they can address them. These things are explored over and over in all problematic areas of life. This process exposes trauma gradually so that its symptomatic problems can be fixed.

Adverse Childhood Experiences

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) highlights the role childhood trauma plays in addictive behavior. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are high-stress or traumatic occurrences during youth. These events typically involve abuse or neglect. They might also relate to general household dysfunction like witnessing domestic violence or SUDs among adults in the home.

Studying ACEs has “provided [the field] with a better understanding of the potential impact of adverse events and traumatic experiences on our lives,” according to Katrise Thompson, who serves as the clinical director at Landmark Recovery of Knoxville. “For many, trying to cope with these events and experiences has led to addiction.”

These factors produce social, emotional and cognitive impairments in children. Those impairments often go unnoticed by those not trained to see them. In adolescence or young adulthood, they may adopt health-risk behaviors, which include addiction. 

How ACEs Manifest Later

A pivotal ACE study’s conclusions from the mid-90s still hold as the model for how this plays out, too. The study was conducted by a research team from Kaiser Permanente. Kaiser found that about two of five participants in the Kaiser study reported at least two ACEs. Another eighth of the cohort reported four or more ACEs. In other words, ACEs often present in clusters.

Based on existing data, a SAMHSA 2018 summary on the topic said ACEs can serve as predictors of early-age onset of alcohol consumption. They’re also indicators of mental and substance use disorders for senior citizens and the middle-aged. 

This is why “an integral part of recovery involves healing from the adverse events and traumatic experiences to assist individuals with being able to move forward,” Thompson said. 

What To Do about the Trauma behind Your Addiction

This is why it’s so beneficial to seek help from trained professionals. Trauma impinges upon one’s quality of life. Addiction is one of the most damaging ways in which this occurs. Dealing with the trauma may take a lifetime, but you can kick the addiction today.

“As a clinician, I encourage individuals to not focus on the why because they will never get the answer that they are looking for but, instead, to focus on finding healthier ways to cope with the triggers,” Thompson added. “Teaching individuals healthier ways to cope can empower them to see that recovery is possible and sustainable.”

This is why Landmark professionals practice CBT. It’s a therapy modality that acknowledges addiction as a product of trauma and treats it as such. If you or anyone you know are ready to get past addiction, visit Landmark Recovery or call 888.244.0302.

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