What is the Role of Adverse Child Experiences (ACEs) in Addiction?

What is the Role of Adverse Child Experiences (ACEs) in Addiction?

Some children suffer trauma or neglect early on, resulting in negative life experiences later in life. This can become mental health issues or physical health consequences, including difficulty living a full, happy life. Adverse child experiences (ACEs) are experiences children are exposed to in childhood that create struggles later in life, including substance abuse. Trauma plays a huge part in addiction with millions of children suffering from at least one traumatic childhood event. These children turn into adults who struggle to navigate adulthood in spite of the early trauma.

Defining ACEs

As children, there is a level of trust with parents or caregivers that must be available to grow into healthy adults. When this is broken through neglect or traumatic experiences, it can impact a child’s ability to function normally as an adult, which leads to addiction and mental health issues down the road. Some events that are included in ACEs include:

  • Neglect
  • Divorce
  • Parental separation
  • Parental death
  • Violence in the community
  • Witnessing abuse, neglect, or substance abuse in the home
  • Sexual, emotional, or physical abuse
  • Caregivers or parents who are mentally ill (may also include siblings)
  • Poverty

Even when children experience some of these, they can thrive as adults. There is no way to tell for sure how much people will face the negative effects of early childhood trauma until they are adults.

Addiction and ACEs

The root of addiction comes from many places. This includes the environment, family, friends, and loved ones with addiction, and stress that lead to finding ways of numbing the pain so as not to deal with the past. The earlier it starts, the harder it is to deal with. Substance abuse can harm a person at any age and cause them to find other means of coping later in life. This may increase the chances of early alcohol, drug, and tobacco use. The spiral into addiction has many facets but ACEs definitely do not make it easier to find healthy means of coping with life. It is in learning to cope better with stress and trauma from the past that a person is able to focus away from addiction towards healing. Unfortunately, while addiction can happen to anyone, any adults who suffered trauma at a young age are more at risk for developing addiction. It can be very difficult to work through these issues and move past addiction but it is possible with the right support and help from loved ones who are willing to work with people on navigating these issues to come to a place of health and piece.

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