Addiction – It is not drugs or alcohol!

What are ACEs?

ACE is an acronym for Adverse Childhood Events. These are experiences that someone has had before turning 18 years old. ACEs can help predict future addiction.

Unfortunately for most children, many of their experiences can be classified as traumatic. The most prevalent are: 

  • Sexual abuse
  • Divorce
  • Domestic violence
  • Parents suffering from addiction
  • Imprisonment

A traumatic childhood experience can have a devastating effect on an individual’s mental and physical health. Adults who have experienced ACEs are more likely to develop substance abuse later on in life.

The professional approach to addiction has changed from shaming to accepting that addiction is a natural and normal biological reaction to childhood adversity. Dr. Daniel Sumrok of University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Medicine popularized this progressive perspective. Sumrok began his quest to change the narrative about addiction after treating Vietnam veterans who had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sumrok witnessed firsthand how the traumatic events triggered addiction and harmful behavior. 

ACEs can affect long-term health and include: physical, emotional, and sexual abuse; neglectful treatment of family members; addiction to substances; depression; other mental illnesses; parental separation; incarceration and deportation of a loved one; racism; participation in foster care systems, and many more. When Dr. Sumrok meets a patient, he will perform an ACE assessment.

According to ACE studies, 64% of people have at most one ACE. This can increase the risk of using drugs and alcohol at an earlier age by four times. A score of 4 or higher increases your risk of developing heart disease or lung cancer by nearly two-thirds and 700%, respectively. A score of 5 or more is seven to 10 times more likely for someone to abuse illegal drugs and become addicted. These studies also show that no matter the type of trauma suffered, it doesn’t matter. Different combinations of ACEs have the same statistical consequences for your health.

This has helped to normalize the term “ritualized compulsive discomfort-seeking” which is a form of addiction. One adopts a behavior as a coping mechanism because they didn’t have a healthy alternative growing up. This approach is supported psychologically and can be used to help clients suffering from substance abuse. Instead of blaming an addict or punishing them for their actions, coaches at Through The Archway believe it is more productive and kinder to discuss ACEs with clients and help them find comfort in other behavior. The staff at Through The Archway has always been dedicated to helping clients achieve permanent sobriety. They look at trauma as appropriate and provide the skills necessary to handle their emotions.

The brain is changing.

The brain is also affected by trauma. These changes can have adverse effects on health regardless of how they are made.

  • Substance addiction can be partially explained by damage to the pleasure and rewards centers of the brain.
  • Inhibition of the prefrontal cortex can lead to impaired impulse control.
  • Because the amygdala (the fear response area) is constantly activated, it can be potentially affected. This causes the body stress hormones to be released, which are not intended to be used so frequently and can eventually damage the body’s health.

Sumrok believes that there is a strong correlation between trauma and addiction. Instead, we should call it addiction ritualized compulsive discomfort-seeking and see it as a natural response to childhood adversity. Nearly 92 percent of the 1,200 addiction patients he treated had an ACE score greater than 3.

Recent Studies

The original ACEs study focused on 10 types of trauma. However, more recent studies have looked at other adverse experiences that could increase the risk of poor outcomes.

  • Racism
  • Witnessing violence in the outside world
  • Bullying
  • Deportation of a parent
  • Living in an unsafe location
  • Foster care
  • Homelessness
  • Living in a war zone
  • Being an immigrant
  • Moving frequently
  • Witnessing the abuse of a sibling
  • Participation in the criminal justice system
  • A school that has a zero-tolerance discipline policy

Building resilience and preventing trauma.

It is important to recognize that ACEs can often be prevented. To help parents and professionals who work with children, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers ACEs training.

Building resilience is a way to help survivors avoid the adverse effects statistically associated with their trauma. Supportive relationships with adults in childhood, a friend you can confide in, and other protective factors that reduce the severity of the situation are all things that build resilience. Through The Archway in Parkland, Florida offers trauma-informed therapies. These include talk therapy, meditation, and mindfulness training.

Researchers have linked these personal traits to resilience.

  • Optimism
  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Active coping skills
  • Maintain a supportive social circle
  • Take care of one’s physical health
  • Adopting a personal moral compass

There is a new hope for those suffering from addiction.

A person suffering from addiction may be able to benefit greatly from seeking help for their childhood traumas. These are often the root causes of their substance abuse disorder.

However, it is possible to recover. This is important to remember. Many others have made it through similar situations and are still making great progress. It is possible to take a step forward. Understanding how childhood experiences can cause negative thoughts can help you understand why you use substances.

What to do next?

We must do everything we can to heal our inner child right now so that others can do the same. You can recover from addiction and live a normal, productive life. Don’t lose heart.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addition, reach out to us. Through the Archway offers an alternative model to help addicts and alcoholics achieve permanent sobriety.