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Posted by on in Drug Addiction

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A study  published in the August issue of the journal Addiction and summarized on PsychCentral by Richard Taite looked at the impact of second-hand trauma on later substance abuse.  Researchers looked for  traumatic medical events in the families of  1.4 million children born in Sweden between 1984 and 1995 by examining hospital discharge records. They were able to identify  children who  had  a parent or  a sibling who had been diagnosed with cancer or an immediate family member who suffered an injury which resulted in permanent disability or who had  been a victim of assault or who had died. They then assigned each child a score of 0-4 depending on the amount of secondhand trauma s/he experienced. Then the  researchers turned to medical, legal and pharmacy records to see which of these children  were  diagnosed with substance abuse problems when they reached their 20’s.

The researchers took care to control for other factors that might promote  substance use, such as socioeconomic status, drug use by family members, psychological wellbeing and parents’ educational level. What they found was striking: Children who experienced even one of the four secondhand traumas under study had twice the risk of later drug abuse.  Children who experienced the death of a parent were at greatest risk.  Having a parent or sibling who was the  victim of violent assault was the second most powerful factor. The PsychCentral report points out that “substance abuse was even higher in children whose siblings had experienced trauma than it was in children whose parents had been traumatized”.  The authors of the study had high confidence in their findings since they were able to conduct annual sampling of a national population over a period 16 years and because they had access to multiple data sources in order to identify cases of substance use disorders.

Of course, previous studies have noted the  impact of adverse childhood events (ACEs) on childrens’ emotional development.  As I explained in another post  researchers have found that  people who endure a great deal of toxic stress spend much of their lives in fight, flight or fright.  As the ACEs Too High Newsletter explained in October 2012:

“(These children) respond to the world as a place of constant danger. With their brains overloaded with stress hormones and unable to function appropriately, they can’t focus on learning. They fall behind in school or fail to develop healthy relationships with peers or create problems with teachers and principals because they are unable to trust adults. Some kids do all three. With despair, guilt and frustration pecking away at their psyches, they often find solace in food, alcohol, tobacco, methamphetamines, inappropriate sex, high-risk sports, and/or work and over-achievement. They don’t regard these coping methods as problems. Consciously or unconsciously, they use them as solutions to escape from depression, anxiety, anger, fear and shame. (http://goo.gl/VEl0ez)  (Please continue reading)

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