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09-23 The link between childhood trauma and underage drinking

The link between childhood trauma and underage drinking

The reasons why alcohol abuse and alcoholism are strongly tied to traumatic life stressors are varied. Equipping oneself with effective coping skills is one particular step a teen must take as he or she gets closer to adulthood. Sometimes, certain negative experiences can leave one disarmed and susceptible to self-destructive coping mechanisms instead. Teens cite unique reasons for excessive alcohol consumption, but delving deeper into the issue is worth gaining more insight into the realm of co-occurring disorders and how underlying connections build during adolescent development.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network defines a traumatic event as an experience where the integrity of a person or a loved one is threatened in a physical or psychological manner. A related group of research findings detail how the slippery slope of substance abuse begins with trauma. According to the 2013 National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW), more than half of a sample of 5,873 U.S. children and teenagers experienced at least four or more traumatic events before the age of 16. Down the line in an individual’s development, more than 50 percent of adolescents have had at least one drink by age 15 and more than 70 percent of teens have had a drink before age 17, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Multiple research endeavors have sought to connect the dots between these two harmful trends with promising results. In the 2006 study, “Adverse childhood experiences and the association with ever using alcohol and initiating alcohol use during adolescence,” a research team led by Shanta R. Dube, M.P.H., explored the relationship between adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and the prevalence and/or age of initiating alcohol use. Overall, experiencing a traumatic experience during childhood contributed to a 20 to 70 percent increase in the likelihood to begin consuming alcohol between the ages of 15 and 17 years of age. In fact, the strongest correlations between ACEs and alcohol initiation were with teens as young as 14.

Although the previous study made a strong case in regards to the link between trauma and substance abuse, researchers still wanted to learn why the connection existed. In the 2011 review, “The role of early life stress as a predictor for alcohol and drug dependence,” researcher Mary-Anne Enoch, M.D., from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) concluded that, “Early life stress can result in permanent neurohormonal and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis changes, morphological changes in the brain, and gene expression changes in the mesolimbic dopamine reward pathway, all of which are implicated in the development of addiction.”

In addition to the direct impact of trauma, it is also important to know that other external factors contribute to alcoholism, such as family dynamics and peer relationships. If your teen is acting out with rash or risky behavior, Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego can help mediate the situation. Sovereign specializes in treating adolescents struggling with substance abuse, mental health disorders and dual diagnosis. Contract us online or call to receive professional support.

Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer

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