The Link Between Opioid Misuse and Childhood Trauma

By Victoria Kim 11/01/17

“In order to truly reach overdose survivors, we need a much better understanding of who they are and the many challenges they face when they seek care."

sad child

Childhood suffering has been linked to a higher risk for both mental and physical health problems including heart disease, stroke, and depression. 

An Indianapolis outreach program geared toward opioid OD survivors who end up in the emergency room studied this phenomenon, by asking patients about their childhood experiences.

They analyzed information gathered from the outreach program, called Project POINT, which works to help OD survivors by linking them to ongoing care.

Among 46 patients who filled out the Adverse Childhood Events (ACE) quiz, 28 of them (60%) produced scores of 4 or more. The ACE quiz asks 10 questions about a person’s experience with physical, sexual and verbal abuse; neglect; mental health or substance use issues among family members; and more—all before the age of 18.

According to the Adverse Childhood Experiences study, first conducted in the 1990s, the more difficult your childhood is, the higher you’ll likely score on the ACE quiz—which predicts a greater risk for health and behavioral problems later in life. Risks include substance use disorder, liver disease, employment problems, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual violence, and poor academic performance. 

The study of the Indianapolis OD survivors concluded that “a substantial proportion of patients” who were admitted to the emergency department “have co-morbid mental health issues and high rates of early childhood trauma exposure.” 

Confirming this correlation could help improve outreach services for these patients, says the study’s lead author. “In order to truly reach overdose survivors, we need a much better understanding of who they are and the many challenges they face when they seek care,” said Dr. Krista Brucker. “Designing and implementing effective outreach and referral programs will require listening carefully to patients and taking into account the impact of untreated mental illness, exposure to childhood trauma and many other medical and social determinants of health.”

Dr. Gabor Mate, who has worked with drug users for many years, illustrated the importance of recognizing this correlation in a 2016 interview with The Fix

“They didn’t know they were traumatized. No doctor had ever pointed it out to them. They thought they were just fuck-ups. They thought they were just bad people. They thought they were just addicts. They didn’t realize that they were using the addiction to soothe a deep pain that was rooted in trauma. In all cases of addiction that I have seen, there’s deep pain that comes out of trauma. The addiction is the person’s unconscious attempt to escape from the pain.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr