'Clear Link' Between Childhood Trauma and Substance Abuse, Addiction Doctor Says [johnsoncitypress.com]


By Jonathan Roberts, Johnson City Press, September 2, 2019

Almost half of all American children have experienced at least some form of childhood trauma.

Many of these adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, can be tied back to drug and substance abuse, but their impact may be more widespread than many perceive.

In Tennessee, an estimated 49% of children have at least one adverse childhood experience, and 24.1% have at least two. Nationally, those numbers sit at 45% and 20.5%, respectively. Children with ACEs, such as neglect, physical and sexual abuse and family dysfunction, are more likely to suffer from a wide range of health disorders, both physical and mental β€” including substance abuse.

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Trauma > addiction > trauma > addiction.

When people in recovery meetings hear about ACEs and a bit about the brain science of trauma β€” flight, fight, freeze, fawn β€” and "get" that multi-generational addiction and abuse is not their fault, I often hear an audible sigh of relief. Generations of guilt and shame seem to roll off the shoulders of people who thought they were β€œbad” or β€œdamaged,” or β€œborn defective.”  

Multi-generational addiction and abuse can be disrupted. Learning self-care, as is advocated, especially, in a 12-Step program for people who grew up in addiction or are in relationship with people in addictions, can be a great first step toward learning how to trust that people will show up when they say they will. There are people who can talk about hard things without being violent or terrifying. There are people who heal and feel better and are willing to help others learn how to do the same. There is peace and safety in being with a community of like-minded people looking for solutions in a sane and loving way, not a critical or condemning way. 

The tie between ACEs and addiction is so fused by the trauma response of seeking relief. The first time I heard that addiction is β€œritualized comfort seeking,” or that the addict’s solution  β€” his or her substance abuse or addictive behavior β€” is his or her answer to the problem, so much clicked for me, as I have seen it click for others.  

That recovery programs and resilience practices promote substituting destructive behavior with constructive behavior, such as going to a meeting instead of the bar; taking a walk in nature with a friend instead of isolating; picking up the phone to talk to someone when triggered instead of going to the refrigerator or junk food aisle; turning on music and dancing instead of numbing out by shopping or binge-watching TV; journaling or meditating instead of obsessing, etc.? This is genius and is modeled for and shared with newcomers to the full complement of 12 Step programs. 

When people who grew up in addiction and abuse learn and practice safer, healthier behaviors, we don’t automatically fall back into what was modeled at home.

When we meet and build relationships with people who consistently re-route unhealthy impulses and replace them with healthier ones, we can all heal and get better β€” together.

Community is a great trauma preventive. Community, healthy relationships, consistency, predictability, acceptance.  

There is hope and healing, especially when there is no guilt, shame, or blame and there is instead acceptance and truths spoken that others β€œhave been there too.” 
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