Study Links Early Childhood Trauma to Increased Substance Abuse

As substance use disorders become an even larger public health concern for so many families, researchers are trying to identify pre-existing conditions that may be an important indicator in developing targeted prevention initiatives. In a recent study, Canadian researchers have found that early childhood trauma was an important leading indicator in future substance abuse disorders and alcohol abuse. At a recent conference held in Maryland and hosted by the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program (HIDTA) that I attended, several pilot programs are now in effect across our country that trigger communications between law enforcement and school counselors once children are witness to, or involved in, a traumatic experience in their homes. The purpose of these programs is to immediately provide all the necessary support for those children that school districts have available to them. 


Traumatic Childhood Experiences Linked to Substance Abuse in Adulthood

A new study suggests adults who were victims of sexual and/or physical abuse in childhood, or who witnessed chronic parental violence, are at greatly increased risk of substance use.

Researchers from the University of Toronto found one in five drug-dependent adults and one in six alcohol-dependent adults had experienced childhood sexual abuse, compared with one in 19 in the general population of Canada, PsychCentral reports.

One in seven adults who were dependent on drugs or alcohol had been exposed to chronic parental domestic violence, compared with one in 25 in the general population, the researchers report in Substance Use & Misuse. Parental violence was considered chronic if it occurred at least 11 times before the child turned 16, the article notes.

“We were surprised that chronic parental domestic violence exposure remained significantly associated with both drug and alcohol dependence, even when we adjusted for childhood maltreatment, depression and most of the known risk factors for substance dependency,” lead researcher Esme Fuller-Thomson said in a news release. “In fact, the odds of alcohol dependency among those who witnessed their parents’ chronic domestic violence were about 50 percent higher than those without that exposure, and these odds were similar in magnitude to that of childhood sexual abuse.”

She said “the chronic chaotic and violent home environment may have predisposed individuals to turn to alcohol or drugs as a way of coping.”

Co-author Jessica Roane added, “Our findings underline the importance of preventing childhood abuse and domestic violence. In addition, social workers and other health professionals must continue to support survivors of these childhood adversities across the lifespan, with particular attention to substance abuse and dependence issues.”

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