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The Link Between Child Maltreatment And Adult Substance Abuse

Childhood maltreatment may be a good place to start as it encompasses numerous problems.

As many as two-thirds of people in alcohol and drug abuse treatment report they were physically, sexually, or emotionally abused during childhood – all of which are considered various forms of childhood maltreatment. This type of trauma can be a strong indicator for future substance abuse.

One of the most telling signs of child maltreatment, and biggest indicators of future substance abuse, is parental substance abuse.

Early Exposure to Substance Abuse

In general, parents who abuse substances are less likely to be attentive to their children and function effectively as a parent. This can be due to impairment while under the influence, decreased funds, increased time spent seeking substances, and more.

These factors can lead to increased child neglect such as lack of nutrition, supervision, nurturing, and more. Physical neglect has been shown to have high correlation with opioid addiction specifically.

Studies have shown that between one-third and two-thirds of child maltreatment cases involve substance abuse.

Sexual Violence

Sexual violence, including assault and rape, have also been found to increase a person’s risk of substance abuse later in life. One study found that women who had been raped, a majority of which occurring by age 17, with about half experiencing the incident before turning 11, were “dramatically more likely to abuse drugs than women who were not victims.”

These rape victims were:

  • 3 times more likely to have used marijuana

  • 6 times more likely to have used cocaine

  • More than 10 times more likely to have used drugs other than cocaine including heroin and amphetamines.

One of the reasons sexual violence may be a leading cause of substance abuse is because it can have a major effect on mental health.

Mental Illness

Along with sexual violence, childhood physical abuse is another issue that can have a lasting impact on an individual. Specifically, these two problems have been linked to higher risks of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD, all of which are linked to future substance abuse and can be indicators and signs of opioid addiction, alcoholism, and illicit drug use.

While addiction treatment centres that cater specifically to patients with both mental health and substance abuse disorders do exist, less than a quarter of treatment centers meet the criteria for a dual diagnosis recovery program.

Along with greater risk for substance abuse, childhood maltreatment also factors into numerous future health problems including:

  • Diabetes

  • Lung disease

  • Malnutrition

  • Heart attack

  • Brain damage and more

It is important to understand the various problems that can lead to or point to future signs of drug or alcohol abuse. Addiction is something that can have a lasting impact not only on the user but the entire family unit if proper addiction treatments are not provided.

By Peyton Gallovich in ACEs Connection on 2nd October 2020

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