Childhood Trauma and Addiction

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Endless quantities of research have identified a direct causal link between unresolved early-life trauma and later-life addictions (all types of addiction). For this reason, addiction therapists, when working with new clients, typically ask about childhood neglect, abuse, and family dysfunction. Often, they use some form of the Adverse Childhood Experiences Screening (ACES). At Seeking Integrity: Los Angeles, we look for ten forms of childhood trauma – five personal, five familial.

Personal Traumas

  • Physical abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect

Familial Traumas

  • Addiction
  • Domestic violence
  • Incarcerated family member
  • Mental illness
  • Divorce or abandonment

The basic ACES screening is scored one through ten, with each type of trauma that a person has experienced counting as one point. So an individual with an alcoholic mother, a physically abusive father, and an early-life history of emotional neglect would score three on the ACES screening.

As stated earlier, research consistently links ACES to adult-life issues (including addiction). Stated simply, the higher a person’s ACES score is, the more likely that person is to experience physical ailments like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, and/or psychological disorders like anxiety, depression, and addiction. For example, one oft-cited study tells us that people with an ACES score of four or higher are:

  • 1.8 times as likely to smoke cigarettes
  • 1.9 times as likely to become obese
  • 2.4 times as likely to experience ongoing anxiety
  • 2.5 times as likely to experience panic reactions
  • 3.6 times as likely to be depressed
  • 3.6 times as likely to qualify as promiscuous
  • 6.6 times as likely to engage in early-life sexual intercourse
  • 7.2 times as likely to become alcoholic
  • 11.1 times as likely to become intravenous drug users

Thus, there is an undeniable link between early-life neglect, abuse, and family dysfunction and a wide array of adult-life physical and psychological disorders – including addiction. If you find yourself struggling with an addiction, it is likely that unresolved issues from your childhood are driving your compulsivity. If so, you will need to address both your addiction and your unresolved early-life trauma.

The ACES screening assessment can be found at this link. For more information about trauma and the treatment of trauma, plus referrals to clinicians who specialize in this work, visit the website of the International Association of Trauma Professionals at