Trauma And Addiction
Updated: Apr 8
The Ceaseless Cycle of Childhood Trauma and Addiction:
Strategies for Intervention and Prevention
Erin Burton, PharmD
As the COVID-19 pandemic approaches the endemic stage, I find myself frequently contemplating the toll it took on some of the nation’s most vulnerable: our children. Like all of us, school-aged children have endured overwhelming hardships over the past two years, whether it be in the form of online schooling, parental job loss, or a stay-at-home order in a dysfunctional household. As we pick up the pieces from one of the deadliest outbreaks in history, we must consider the correlation between childhood trauma and addiction in adulthood to prevent a worsening overdose epidemic.
We know that trauma is a major risk factor for nearly all substance use disorders, and, unfortunately, 2 in 3 children report experiencing at least one traumatic event in their lifetime.1,2 These adverse childhood experiences, referred to as ACEs in the medical community, include situations such as: mental illness or substance use disorder of a household member, the sudden loss of a loved one, abuse, neglect, violence, or family separation.1 Compared to people with 0 ACEs, people with greater than or equal to 5 ACEs are 7 to 10 times more likely to become addicted to illicit drugs.3
We also know that between March and September of 2020, physical abuse of school-aged children tripled while the nationwide stay-at-home orders were in effect for the COVID-19 pandemic.4 These numbers might be even higher for older children who endured abuse or neglect but did not require medical care. Since these kids weren’t regularly interacting with teachers or other adults who might’ve noticed the signs of abuse, even more cases probably went unreported.5
While this data is heartbreaking, the good news is that full recovery and healing from childhood trauma is possible with early intervention and treatment. That said, I urge you, Zac43 Warriors, to check in with the young people in your life and ask them about their pandemic experience. Notice red flags and hastily intervene if something seems off. By shifting our attention to this major route cause of addiction, we can hopefully break the cycle of adverse childhood experiences for future generations.
1. “Recognizing and Treating Child Traumatic Stress.” SAMHSA, 15 Feb. 2022, https://www.samhsa.gov/child-trauma/recognizing-and-treating-child-traumatic-stress.
2. Understanding Child Trauma. SAMHSA. 2022 Jan. 11. https://www.samhsa.gov/child-trauma/understanding-child-trauma.
3. Dube SR, Felitti VJ, Dong M, Chapman DP, Giles WH, Anda RF. Childhood abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction and the risk of illicit drug use: the adverse childhood experiences study. Pediatrics. 2003 Mar;111(3):564-72. doi: 10.1542/peds.111.3.564. PMID: 12612237.
4. Maassel NL, Asnes AG, Leventhal JM, Solomon DG. Hospital admissions for abusive head trauma at children’s hospitals during COVID-19. Pediatrics. 2021 Jul 1;148(1).
5. Mann D. Study: Child Abuse Rose During COVID Pandemic. U.S. News and World Report. 2021 Oct. 8. https://www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2021-10-08/study-confirms-rise-in-child-abuse-during-covid-pandemic.