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ACEs, Trauma and Addiction

Oct 15, 2023

“Trauma” has become a household word in the last few decades, but a subset of trauma known as “adverse childhood experiences” (ACEs) is not as widely used. If you don’t consider these “ACEs” to be trauma, you may be unaware of their impact on your health and well-being. In this blog post, we’ll explain how ACEs and trauma can become a link to addiction and substance use disorders and introduce you to treatment options for women.

The link between adverse childhood experiences and addiction is an important one for women to understand. Childhood trauma and stressors can have a serious and long-lasting effect on a woman’s mental health. Left untreated, ACEs can increase the risk of developing a Substance Use Disorder (SUD) in adolescence or adulthood. Trauma-informed care and dual diagnosis treatment for an SUD and co-occurring mental health diagnosis are essential in beginning the recovery journey. Hannah’s House personalizes each program to address what an individual woman needs to be successful in her efforts to achieve sobriety.

What Are ACEs?

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are traumatic or stressful events that take place during a person’s formative years. ACEs include a variety of traumas like neglect, domestic violence, parental separation or divorce, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, as well as mental illness or incarceration of a parent and substance use disorders within the family. What classifies them as ACEs is their long-term impact on a person’s physical, emotional, and mental health.

How Do ACEs Affect Mental Health?

It is important to remember that each woman may experience childhood trauma differently and that not everyone who suffers trauma will face mental health problems later in life. With that in mind, let’s share some of the ways adverse childhood experiences can impact a child and linger into adolescence and adulthood. 

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): PTSD, which is characterized by intrusive memories, flashbacks, nightmares, and extreme anxiety or discomfort, can be brought on by ACEs.
  • Anxiety Disorders: Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder are a few of the anxiety disorders that can be linked to childhood trauma and stressful events.
  • Depression: ACEs can raise the risk of depression in both adolescence and adulthood. A persistent sense of sadness, despair, and a loss of interest in preferred activities frequently accompanies this condition.
  • Dissociation: Dissociation—a break from one’s ideas, identity, awareness, or memory—is a protective mechanism used by trauma survivors to shield themselves from intense emotions and can be related to adverse childhood experiences.
  • Self-Harm and Suicidal Thoughts: The possibility of engaging in self-destructive activities, self-harm, or having suicidal thoughts and impulses can be increased by untreated childhood trauma.
  • Hypervigilance: ACEs can lead to hypervigilance, which keeps people on high alert all the time for potential threats and can cause chronic anxiety and stress.

ACEs can lead to other mental health concerns, too, including eating disorders, low self-esteem, a disruption of attachment patterns, emotional dysregulation, and identity issues.

How Do ACEs Lead to SUD?

If left untreated, ACEs can significantly increase the risk of developing a Substance Use Disorder (SUD) in adolescence or adulthood. Women who have gone through adverse childhood experiences may use drugs or alcohol to cope with or numb the overwhelming emotions, discomfort, and memories linked to their trauma. Those who have experienced trauma may turn to drugs or alcohol as a kind of self-medication to ease their post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or anxiety symptoms. Using drugs or alcohol may be seen by some women as a way to separate from the memory of their ACEs. ACEs can cause emotional dysregulation, impulsivity, and a decreased capacity to handle stress, making women more susceptible to substance use and luring them into social environments where substance use is common. ACEs can also be linked to a lack of appropriate coping mechanisms and a tendency for risky behavior.

Treating ACEs

Recognizing that ACES and addiction are related is a valuable first step for any woman with a history of SUDs or a struggle with staying sober after treatment. It’s not enough to treat only the SUD, as sobriety depends on treating the mental health component as well. Effective treatment can consist of a medically managed detox, followed by various levels of care such as outpatient counseling, intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), and inpatient or residential treatment. Evidence-based therapies, such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), are commonly used in these settings. Also, trauma-informed care emphasizes safety, trust, choice, and empowerment while acknowledging the impact of ACEs on a woman’s life. It involves creating a therapy setting sympathetic to the perspectives of trauma survivors.

Getting Help for ACEs and Addiction at Hannah’s House

Treatment at Hannah’s House begins with a medical detox to manage withdrawal symptoms safely. A thorough assessment is essential to identify the specific ACEs, the extent of trauma, and the severity of substance use. This assessment helps tailor the treatment plan to your needs. Co-occurring disorder treatment allows multiple teams to integrate care for both an SUD and mental health needs from ACEs. Evidence-based therapies are used, with the help of medication, when necessary. Each program helps women learn how to find peer support and create a sense of community to sustain her sobriety. Holistic practices, such as mindfulness, yoga, and meditation, can help women manage stress, anxiety, and emotional regulation. Family therapy is another aspect of a co-occurring disorder treatment program and allows a woman’s family to participate in addressing family dynamics, communication patterns, and support networks. As the program gets underway and throughout, help with relapse prevention is offered, and aftercare planning begins to create a seamless transition to the next steps of a woman’s recovery process.

Hannah’s House is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety. For more information about the stages of alcoholism in women or to learn about our programs, call us today: 866-952-5532.

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