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Early Childhood Trauma and the Disease of Addiction

By Brad Lamm, CIP

Early Childhood Trauma and the Disease of Addiction

We know that addiction is a disease and can be treated as such. But recently, science has begun to make the association between early childhood trauma and the susceptibility to substance abuse later in life.

Although I can easily make the connection between the traumatic experiences in my childhood and my substance abuse later in life, a resurgence in the interest of that link has been resurfacing in the field of addiction treatment. In a research study conducted by Kaiser Permanente, a health maintenance organization (HMO), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the high frequency of adverse childhood experiences (ACE) was ‘strongly associated with adulthood high-risk health behaviors such as smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, promiscuity, and severe obesity, and correlated with ill-health including depression, heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease and shortened lifespan.’

Dr. Tian Dayton, a nationally renowned speaker, expert, and consultant in psychodrama, trauma and addiction, has developed a model of treatment that takes this research into account, addressing both the history of trauma and the current compulsive behavior in addicts.  She has found that creative approaches such as sociometry group psychotherapy, guided imagery and journaling are very successful in giving a voice to the part that has been silenced. Through this work, ‘emotions come pouring forward,’ Dayton writes. ‘As they do, the part of us that thinks and reasons can see old childhood pain through more mature adult eyes.’

All addiction is not caused by trauma, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that it can be a big part of the disorder. Addressing these findings has to be a part of a comprehensive treatment program.

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