How Trauma as a Child can lead to Substance Abuse and Mental Disorders

Posted on March 19th, 2010
Posted in PTSD

Childhood trauma is widely acknowledged to be connected with adult difficulties. Children of alcoholics sometimes struggle with drinking, and those affected by abuse often require additional prevention measures to keep the trauma from affecting another generation of children.

New research, however, is connecting childhood trauma to the occurrence of co-morbidity in adults. Adults are experiencing not only one type of trauma, but the combined struggle of both mental disorders and substance abuse. Wu, Schairer, Dellor, and Grella recently examined the connection between childhood trauma and co-morbidity.

The researchers recruited 402 participants aged 18 years or older. The average age was 36.4 years, and over half were male. Nearly two-thirds had a diagnosis of a mood disorder and the balance of the participants had a diagnosis of a psychotic disorder. Over half of the participants were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The researchers established childhood trauma by evaluating measures of abuse and neglect and measures of family dysfunction, asking questions about mistreatment and family stability. Participants were also evaluated for substance abuse measures, HIV-risk behaviors, psychosocial functioning and medical problems.

The study employed logistic regression analysis to determine how childhood traumas were related to adult difficulties such as substance abuse, HIV-risk behavior, and medical problems.

The results of the study establish that the rate of childhood trauma was higher among the participants with comorbid substance abuse and mental health disorders, when compared with adults from a primary health care setting. Nearly all of the participants reported having experienced childhood trauma, at a stunning level of 95 percent.

The researchers found a strong connection between childhood trauma and health problems occurring in adulthood, in addition to psychosocial functioning. There was an increased risk for post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol dependence, drug use, and several other risky behaviors.

The research showed an overall decrease in the quality of life for participants with comorbid substance abuse and mental health disorders with a history of childhood trauma.

There are two major limitations to the study. First, the data may not generalize to those seeking outpatient treatment or those not seeking treatment. Second, the study relies on self-report to measure the presence of childhood trauma.
The findings of the study are critical for those treating co-morbidity among substance abuse and mental health patients. Individuals identified as having experienced childhood trauma may need targeted prevention measures to ensure a higher quality of life that is not marred by the effects of substance abuse and mental health disorders.
 

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