ACEs and Addiction: A Recovery Guide

ACEs and Addiction: A Recovery Guide

Getting Help at Icarus for Childhood Trauma Causing Addiction as an Adult

The burden of traumatic childhood events can linger well into adulthood and often the cause of attempts to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.

If you or a loved one have come to this blog, wondering about the connection and perhaps struggling, you have reached the right resource with our full guide to ACEs and addiction.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are linked to a range of physical and mental health problems. These include both childhood health problems and concerns that present as an adult.

Substance use disorders, for example, are more likely in those who have been through at least one ACE. The higher the number of traumatic childhood experiences, the more the risk increases. Despite this, it is possible to heal from traumatic childhood experiences and the negative consequences of them, including addiction.

So, what should you know about addiction and trauma, and the most effective approaches currently used as treatment?

Our blog resource will go over the basics of ACEs, how ACEs impact addiction and mental health, the importance of getting help, and what Icarus Behavioral Health can do for you as someone getting help for childhood trauma causing addiction as an adult.

Understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines adverse childhood experiences as potentially traumatic events that occur during the first 0-17 years of a person’s life. Adverse childhood experiences can take different forms.

Examples of adverse childhood experiences include but aren’t limited to early life experiences such as the following:

  • Instability at home, whether due to parental divorce, deportation of a family member, having a loved one in the criminal justice system, or something else.
  • Childhood abuse, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional abuse.
  • Having a close family member with a substance use disorder or mental health condition.
  • Having a close family member with a serious physical health condition.
  • Witnessing violence (e.g., domestic violence between parents).
  • Neglect, including physical neglect or emotional neglect.
  • Involvement in the foster care system.
  • Bullying.

Higher ACE scores have significant correlations with not only poor physical and mental health outcomes but also with risk-taking behavior, trouble forming healthy interpersonal relationships as an adult, and low socioeconomic status.

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Adverse Childhood Experiences, Mental Illness, and Addiction

How common are ACEs, and how do they increase the risk of chronic disease, adult mental health or substance abuse, and other challenges?

Research on the prevalence and impact of ACEs shows us that:

  • Sixty-four percent of adults faced at least one ACE.
  • One in six adults underwent four or more ACEs.
  • People with a higher ACE score are significantly more likely to face alcohol or drug abuse compared to those with a lower ACE score.
  • Suicide attempts and early death can be more likely in survivors of ACEs.

The type of adverse childhood experience can make a difference when it comes to specific substance use disorder rates (e.g., alcohol use disorder) and mental health conditions. That said, we do see an overall greater risk of many negative physical and mental health outcomes for those with past trauma in childhood.

Adverse Childhood Experiences Study

While it was conducted in 1995-1997, the CDC-Kaiser ACE study is one of the most sizable studies on the consequences or effects of adverse childhood experiences to date. The CDC-Kaiser ACE study looked at survey results from 17,000 participants, which detailed their childhood experiences, current health status, and behaviors.

The study ended up finding that adverse childhood experience exposure was positively correlated with negative impacts such as the following:

  • Mental health concerns. For example, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.
  • Chronic medical conditions. For example, cancer and diabetes.
  • Reproductive concerns. Unintended pregnancy, pregnancy complications, or fetal death are all more likely.
  • Infection. For example, a heightened risk of HIV and other infectious diseases.
  • Occupational and financial issues. For example, poorer educational and occupational outcomes.
  • Alcohol and drug abuse. For example, alcohol use disorder and drug addiction in various forms (e.g., cocaine use disorder).

Although extensive research shows us that ACEs are significant predictors of these negative outcomes, it is also crucial to remember what we know about recovery from addiction research: It is more than possible. In fact, 7 in 10 people with an addiction recover.

Research on other mental health conditions, including those common among ACE survivors, also shows that it is possible for symptoms and quality of life to improve. Ideally, the healing process for survivors should acknowledge all relevant aspects that affect well-being, including direct acknowledgment of childhood trauma.

The Importance of Getting Help for Childhood Trauma and Addiction as an Adult

Getting Help for Childhood Trauma

Often, we don’t realize just how much our childhood trauma impacts us until we work through it and come out on the other side. Getting help for childhood trauma and addiction can change the course of your life entirely and for the better. When you process childhood trauma and overcome addiction, you can meet goals such as the following:

  • Building and maintaining healthy relationships
  • Coping with and expressing emotions healthily.
  • Good-standing health and well-being.
  • Establishing a job or career.
  • Getting an education.

Asking for or accepting help for ACEs and addiction can be challenging. However, the right treatment program will work to meet your specific needs and help you heal as the unique person you are. Treatment and assessment for childhood trauma and addiction is worth it, and so are you.

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How Our Programs Help ACE Survivors Overcome Trauma and Addiction

Icarus Behavioral Health has a dual diagnosis treatment program for people with a substance use disorder and one or more comorbid mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma disorders common in survivors of adverse childhood experiences. We also provide standalone addiction and mental health treatment when applicable.

Icarus Behavioral Health offers multiple treatment programs for individuals with all levels and types of addiction. Programs or levels of care at Icarus Behavioral Health in New Mexico include the following:

  • Medical detoxification program.
  • Residential inpatient treatment program.
  • Partial hospitalization program.
  • Intensive outpatient program.
  • Outpatient program.
  • Aftercare and alumni support.

Regardless of care level, clients will engage in regular groups and individual therapy sessions for the duration of their program. Supportive housing is available nearby for outpatient clients who need living arrangements while in treatment, and luxury on-site amenities are available to those in our inpatient and detox programs. For example, a fitness center and comfortable rooms that are far beyond what other treatment centers offer.

Our Approach: Therapies and Treatments


Medication-assisted treatment

The programs at Icarus Behavioral Health work to address mental health and substance abuse from a whole-person perspective. Our trauma-informed mental health professionals use evidence-based treatments, such as the following:

  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.
  • Internal family systems (IFS) therapy.
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT).
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).
  • Cognitive processing therapy (CPT).
  • Motivational interviewing (MI).

Icarus Behavioral Health also provides supportive holistic treatments and life skill training, which can be crucial for those with a high ACE score or for those with specific experiences, such as childhood abuse or neglect. Trauma, drug addiction, and mental illness can all affect your ability to establish or maintain life skills necessary for your success.

Life skills offered on-site at Icarus include but aren’t limited to the following:

  • Psychological skills and mindfulness: We help clients develop strong interpersonal skills, coping skills, and mindfulness skills to use in their daily lives.
  • Nutrition: Our staff members provide basic cooking instruction, grocery shopping, and nutrition counseling.
  • Financial skills: We teach basic financial skills, such as making a basic budget and opening a bank account.
  • Creativity and the arts: Creative activities can promote mental and physical health. In addition to art and music therapy, we help clients discover how creativity can aid their recovery.
  • Work and educational exploration: Our staff members are here to help you explore potential career paths and find work or educational opportunities in the area you intend to live in post-treatment, whether that is in New Mexico or elsewhere.

All of our clients get a personalized treatment plan. Yours will be based on your current needs, goals, and skills. To learn more about how we can help you overcome childhood trauma and addiction, get in touch with Icarus Behavioral Health today.

Get Help for Childhood Trauma and Substance Abuse at Icarus Behavioral Health in New Mexico

Get Help for Childhood Trauma and Substance Abuse

If you have read our blog and it strikes a chord, we are here to help you or someone you love to get support and find a new way to live without the burdens of trauma and substances.

An overwhelming majority of people with substance use disorders faced adverse experiences as a child, but recovery is possible. Icarus Behavioral Health can help you break the cycle of ACEs and addiction. To find out more about our programs and what Icarus can do for you, call the admissions line on our website.

When you talk with our team, they’ll help you verify your health insurance coverage, book a tour of Icarus, or answer your questions about treatment and recovery. All calls are completely confidential, so please reach out to our caring staff today!

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FAQs on ACEs and Addiction

What are ACEs, and how do they relate to addiction?

An adverse childhood experience (ACE) can refer to nearly any kind of childhood adversity. Child abuse, parental substance use, household dysfunction, racism, bullying, and physical or emotional neglect are all examples of ACEs.

ACEs relate to addiction because they increase the chance of illicit drug use. People with multiple ACEs or severe adverse experiences are at an even more elevated risk of substance abuse.

Is trauma the root cause of addiction?

Trauma is a substantial risk factor for addiction and other poor health outcomes. When it comes to childhood trauma specifically, multiple studies indicate that two-thirds or more of adults with a substance use disorder had experienced trauma as a child.

The type and number of ACEs, as well as whether or not a child had certain protective factors, can also make an impact. For example, one study found that the ACEs most associated with substance abuse were sexual abuse, physical abuse, and parental substance use.

What is the connection between childhood trauma and addiction?

Addiction sciences show us that, not only is an elevated risk of alcohol or drug addiction present in survivors of adverse childhood experiences, but that it is a normal response or reaction to ACE exposure.

Human beings develop substance use disorders and other conditions, like eating disorders, for a reason. One of many potential reasons a person could battle drug and alcohol abuse is to cope with past experiences or disruptions in daily life caused by trauma.

Identifying why the use of alcohol or illegal drugs emerged for you can help you understand how it served you, or the role it played in your life, which can then help you find healthier ways to cope and meet your needs.

What mental health issues are caused by ACEs?

High levels of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), eating disorders, and substance use disorders are seen in adults with high ACE scores. There is also an increased risk of bipolar disorder, personality disorders, and schizophrenia.

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