Childhood is a time when the brain is working hard to develop habits and connections so that we grow healthy, strong, and well adjusted. However, traumatic events can stunt our brain development and negatively impact our lives. In many cases, this can leave us vulnerable to developing addictions.

What exactly is the connection between childhood trauma and addiction?

The exact connection between trauma and addiction is complex, but we do have a better understanding now of just how childhood trauma affects the brain. Here is what you need to know about childhood trauma and addiction.

What is Trauma?

Trauma is defined as a negative emotional response to an event or events during your life. These events can be one-time occurrences or they can take place over an extended period of time. Many people who have experienced a traumatic event struggle to move past their trauma, some developing severe mental illnesses over time.

PTSD, CPTSD, depression, and anxiety are just a few negative results of a traumatic event. There are a number of types of traumatic events that you can experience, including, but not limited to:

  • Sexual or physical assault
  • Domestic abuse
  • Mental or emotional abuse
  • Consistent harassment or bullying over an extended period of time
  • Terminal illness
  • Natural disasters
  • Serious accidents resulting in bodily or mental injury or stress
  • Parental neglect


Any event that puts a large amount of stress or other negative emotions on an individual at one time could be traumatic. There is no one event that is more or less traumatic than another. 

How Does Trauma Affect the Brain?

At a young age, the brain has a different way of adjusting to the world around it so that it can absorb information and grow appropriately. It has the innate ability to react and mold itself to its environment, which is known as plasticity. While ordinarily, this is highly beneficial to children, if they are exposed to trauma at an early age, this plasticity can negatively affect brain development.

The brain uses outside experiences to shape the way it grows and forms connections. When put under extreme stress in a traumatic event, the brain may trick itself into believing that stress is a natural state of being. In a sense, it can force itself to be under constant stress and anxiety.

The longer the traumatic events continue, the more likely a child is to struggle to develop mentally. This puts the child at severe risk for developing mental illnesses, as well as making them more susceptible to substance abuse in the future.

How Does Childhood Trauma Connect to Addiction?

It’s easy for someone who has struggled during childhood to continue struggling as an adult. If the trauma was experienced at a young enough age, they may not even realize that they were in a traumatic event in the first place. With the mind in a constant state of panic and few ways to cope, many who have suffered from childhood traumas fall to substances such as drugs or alcohol to lessen their symptoms.

Those who experienced four or more traumatic events through their childhood are far more likely to use substances than those who had a relatively normal childhood. Drugs and alcohol are used as a way for them to self-medicate, lessening their feelings of anxiety and stress.

The substances used can only hold off symptoms of trauma for so long. Each time the substances are used, they become less effective for shorter durations. This makes the person want to use them more often and in higher quantities.

What are Steps to Cope with Addiction?

One of the best things that you can do as an adult who suffered a childhood trauma is to seek professional help. It’s crucial to seek out addiction therapy through rehabilitation services or clinics. There are many drug addiction and alcohol addiction centers dedicated to helping those who are struggling with their addictions and traumas. 

Your clinic physicians can help you cope with your addiction and find you better, healthier ways to manage your stress outside of illicit substances. There are many methods that can be utilized within these clinics; from group therapy sessions to more personalized meetings, you can test different methods to see what works best for you.

Once you have been able to better ground yourself without the use of substances, you should seek the help of a trauma therapist to work through your traumas with you. Having someone to talk with about your struggles may help prevent you from relapsing to your addiction.

You will be recommended various coping strategies to live with your trauma. It is a long and difficult journey but with enough time and perseverance, you can learn to move past the traumatic events you experienced and get back to living life to the fullest.

Remember, there is no shame in returning to addiction rehabilitation if you are to relapse. If you ever need additional help or feel like you are slipping back into old habits, reach out to a professional right away so that you can get the help you need.

Break the Bond Between Trauma and Addiction

While childhood trauma and addiction do have a very clear correlation, you don’t have to rely on illicit substances to cope with your trauma. Remember, if you’re ever struggling with your addiction or with stress caused by trauma, you can reach out to a professional for help. There are people who are willing and able to help make your life easier.

Are you or someone you love struggling with addiction?

We’re here to help. Contact us with any questions or concerns you have regarding our rehabilitation programs and continue reading our blog for more information today.

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