Childhood Trauma – A Risk Factor for Addiction

By February 10, 2014Addiction Prevention
Sharing childhood trauma as a risk factor for addiction helps students understand the importance of working through it with the right professional help.

Sharing childhood trauma as a risk factor for addiction helps students understand the importance of working through it with the right professional help.

I recently had the privilege of giving some talks to High School students on the topic of addiction. I enjoy doing this on a regular basis.  The “entree” for such a topic of discussion–addiction–is best received through the regular curriculum, in this case anatomy and physiology classes and ideally after they’ve studied the brain and/or nervous system since addiction is a brain disorder and disease. Studies reveal that this approach has far better outcomes than delivering the information as an extraordinary event.

I really enjoy being in the presence of High School aged people. The unpretentious, creative curiosity they naturally bring is contagious. My challenge is to invite discussion about an issue that’s not easy to talk about, especially when addiction remains an enigma to most in our society. And I love the challenge and the sense I get, when it happens, that the students really understand why I’m there; because I care about my life and about the world and about them as a direct extension of what addiction and recovery are all about. Not an ego trip, just a real human interaction that nurtures the Soul–and people get that.

I begin by throwing it out there from definitions to causes to prevention to treatment. I let people know how it worked for me and that I’m not unique by any means–that 3 out of 4 of our families have addiction issues. Honestly, I can feel the deeper breaths, the “Oh, thank God, I thought it was just my family” kind of nodding release in the room.

I’m beyond touched and moved by the student’s questions during and after the talks. And the questions beget more questions as people give themselves permission to articulate wonderings and just put it out there themselves. It’s clear that younger people appreciate straight talk and transparency and in that environment great things can happen and in this last round of talks, did happen.

Childhood Trauma Can Lead to Substance Abuse | Addiction

A few days after my last visit, a teacher called to tell me a story emerging out of the recent talks. He said that one of his students did not return the day after my visit to his class. Upon returning to school the next day, the student was asked where he’d been by the teacher, if everything was alright. The student told the teacher the day before had been one of the longest days of his life. He said that when he asked me how childhood trauma, (one of the discussed, five risk factors of addiction) had affected my own addiction and I told him that the suicide of my father was a very traumatic event in my life and part of the reason I used drugs and alcohol, and that until I really looked at it, I wasn’t able to get well–he knew he had to do something.

The student told the teacher that he had been sexually abused when he was younger, that he could not keep it a secret any longer and that he thinks it may be a reason he’s abusing drugs and alcohol. He wants to stop. He took the day to tell his parents about it and about the other person involved. The family all decided to take the day off to seek the help from a mental health professional who will now help the student and his family work through it, (See the Adverse Childhood Experience Study for more information).

One student reported after hearing my talk that he was able to reveal that he'd been sexually abused to family members.

One student reported after hearing my talk that he was able to reveal that he’d been sexually abused to family members.

Okay, I can feel the tears welling up again. To think that a young man can step forward proactively in his own life when he’s given information that just may save his life is one of those divine surprises and gifts that is surely beyond me. The undeniable takeaway for me with this whole story is that human beings will do the right thing if they are informed with the right information. Human beings will get and stay well if they know how. Because in my experience, when I don’t know how, I’m less likely to try.

Obviously, I’m encouraged and invigorated by this experience. I’m so impressed with the quality of teachers and the genuine interest of their students wherever I speak. It’s abundantly clear all are interested in learning how to best take care of themselves and their families so that they may find out how to best contribute to our world. My faith in human nature and the dignity of our humanity is over flowing after being in their presence. We just need to find more forums for conversation and discussion about these issues that affect all of us profoundly.

As some of you know, I produce a podcast called Sober Conversations. The podcast is designed to be another forum to talk about these not-so-easy to talk about things. I close each conversation with the tag line: “All great beginnings start with a conversation.” How true it is.

Dr. Herby Bell is a Recovery and Wellness Coach and owner of Recovery Health Care, an integrated approach to wellness and addiction recovery in Saratoga, California. For more information please call 650 474 9411 or Email:  Connect with me online too:  Facebook | Twitter | Linkedin

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