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How Childhood Trauma Connects To SUD

How To Combat ACEs and Their Impact, How Childhood Trauma Connects To SUD, ACES and SUDS,

Miramont Behavioral Health offers mental health and substance use disorder (SUD) treatment and support options for teens, adults, and families. Each group has unique needs, but one common question arises for every group: how do traumatic childhood events influence mental health and substance abuse later in life?

Adverse childhood experiences (ACE) will look different for different people. While any childhood or adolescent experience that’s perceived as stress-inducing can fall under the ACE umbrella, particular events are automatically classified as ACEs:

  • Psychological and/or emotional childhood abuse (this includes emotional neglect)
  • Sexual and/or physical abuse in childhood/adolescence
  • Household instability and/or dysfunction
  • Household substance abuse 
  • Domestic violence 
  • Criminal activity in the household 

Experiencing ongoing political oppression, community violence, poverty, discrimination, or living under war conditions in early life can also qualify as ACEs. It can also be just as stress-inducing for children and teens to watch other family members or caretakers undergo these traumas. Additionally, the absence of a family member, sibling, or parent due to incarceration can be traumatic.

The stress that trauma induces can become toxic, altering brain chemistry at a point in the developmental process when children are at their most vulnerable. Ultimately, this can affect how children’s bodies and brains respond to stress throughout the duration of their lives. 

How ACEs Play Into SUD and Poor Mental Health

According to studies of childhood trauma, having at least one ACE can double to quadruple the likelihood of using drugs or alcohol, particularly at an early age. Research also shows that adverse childhood experiences are linked to the following physical, mental, psychological, and societal ailments:

  • Depression and/or heavy drinking
  • Asthma and/or increased potential for smoking 
  • Cancer and/or diabetes in adulthood
  • Decreased probability of completing quality education 
  • Decreased employment and/or earning potential

There’s also a greater chance of obesity, generally poor mental health, and overarching bodily dysfunction associated with ACEs. 

Why Do ACEs Affect Us So Negatively?

Many underestimate the amount of stress our bodies and brains absorb after we experience traumatic events. Sustaining that stress affects our neurological development and long-term health in adulthood, and negatively impacts what scientists call the body’s allostatic load. 

Allostatic load refers to the bodily burden of intense, chronic stress. No one is immune to life events involving death, heartbreak, or adversity. Everyone has an allostatic load. It’s when stress becomes unbearable and breaks down an individual’s ability to cope that allostatic overload occurs. The body indicates this overload in various, observable ways—through biomarkers that align with clinical criteria. When we’re constantly overloaded, we become more vulnerable to all of the diseases and disorders previously mentioned. 

It’s important to remember that ACEs don’t automatically break or ruin us, but they do pose a serious challenge to achieving optimal health and mental wellness. 

How To Combat ACEs and Their Impact

If you or your loved one has sustained one or more ACEs, don’t feel that you’re a failure or different from the rest of the population. Over 60% of Americans have shouldered intense trauma in childhood. There are ways that we as a community can begin to mitigate and prevent the occurrence of ACEs and their health consequences:

  • Advocate for and demand the creation of robust programs that bolster the economic strength of families
  • Research, advocate for, and utilize policies and programs that condemn violence and oppression at familial, communal, state, and national levels
  • Research, advocate for, and utilize policies and programs that support childhood development, the protection of children, and the availability of strong, stable mentors
  • Learn and teach healthy coping skills to kids, teens, and families
  • Understand your access to interventions that prevent immediate and long-term abuse

If you or a loved one is struggling with a trauma disorder or substance use disorder caused by adverse childhood experiences, or if you’re feeling unable to manage the stress you’re feeling,  reach out to our team at Miramont. We can guide you and your family through recovery. Feel free to contact us in Middleton and Waukesha to learn more about our mental health services

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