The Role Abuse, PTSD & Adverse Childhood Experiences Play In Addiction

Warning: Some of the content we cover in this article may be distressing.

If you know of any form of abuse taking place, please don’t stay silent and allow the abuse to continue. Please contact your local police or social services child abuse team immediately.

Abuse comes in many shapes and forms, some obvious and others are extremely subtle in the way that the abuse takes place. Abuse can occur at any age, by anyone, toward anyone, so please don’t think that just because you’re an adult now, that abuse cannot happen. This is why being aware of the various forms of abuse is so important.

In this article, we will look at the role abuse plays in childhood, adults and the elderly. We cover domestic violence and we will also look at adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), their roles and how they cause knock on effects throughout their lives.

Childhood Abuse

Parents and guardians serve as an important guiding stepping stone and foundation for their children as they shape them into the adults they will become.

Unfortunately, parents and guardians are only human and it’s possible that they might abuse their own children, especially if they experienced abuse as children themselves.

Child abuse is a major epidemic across the nation, with the NSPCC and other child abuse charities reporting a constant rise in reports and confirmed cases. This then impacts the child’s mind and influences their future lives.

Child abuse has a proven connection to future drug misuse and ultimately addiction, a problem that impacts millions of people every year which is continually growing year on year.

If you are afflicted by an addiction, it’s worth exploring your past and gauging whether or not you suffered from abuse. It can help you get a feel for where addiction originates and how it can be rooted out from your life.

People often think that domestic violence or abuse must be wives stuck at home or to young children. However, remember that abuse, PTSD and domestic violence can occur to anyone of any age, any gender or any sexuality.

Just like addictions, anybody can be touched or affected by these issues without prejudice or exception.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is the term used to describe traumatic experiences before age 18 that can lead to negative, lifelong emotional and physical outcomes.

When the stress of these adverse experiences is so severe or prolonged that a child is unable to process it, what should be a normal survival response becomes “toxic stress”. This type of stress alters the functioning of the brain and has a long-lasting and injurious impact on the developing mind, which we call “trauma”. This trauma affects the way those suffering it think and act throughout their lives. Understanding such mental and emotional trauma is key to understanding the behaviour of millions of people.

The term ACEs derives from a study carried out in the 1990s in California. The 10 ACEs they measured were:

Prevalence of ACEs

The original study found the following prevalence for their list of 10 ACEs:

ACE Category

Emotional Abuse


Physical Abuse


Sexual Abuse


Mother Treated Violently


Household Substance Abuse


Household Mental Illness


Parental Separation or Divorce


Incarcerated Household Member


Emotional Neglect


Physical Neglect


What outcomes do ACEs affect?

As the number of ACEs a person has experienced increases, so does the risk for the following:

  • Alcoholism and alcohol abuse
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Depression
  • Foetal death
  • Health-related quality of life
  • Illicit drug use
  • Ischaemic heart disease
  • Liver disease
  • Poor work performance
  • Financial stress
  • Risk for intimate partner violence
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Smoking
  • Suicide attempts
  • Unintended pregnancies
  • Early initiation of smoking
  • Early initiation of sexual activity
  • Adolescent pregnancy
  • Risk for sexual violence
  • Poor academic achievement

Understanding The Different Types Of Abuse

When people hear the term “child abuse”, they likely think of a parent hitting a child or spanking them excessively. While that’s definitely part of the physical aspect of child abuse, it’s not the only part. This is important for you to understand, as you may have been abused yourself without even knowing it.

You should also know that child abuse doesn’t necessarily have to come from the parent to qualify as abuse. Adults and the elderly can also experience the same forms of abuse as children. Just because they’re grown up doesn’t mean that they can’t experience the same forms of abuse.

Abuse is typically broken down into categories which we have listed below, they apply to both children, adults and the elderly:

  1. Physical Abuse
    • Assault, hitting, slapping, punching, kicking, hair-pulling, biting, pushing
    • Rough handling
    • Scalding and burning
    • Physical punishments
    • Inappropriate or unlawful use of restraint
    • Making someone purposefully uncomfortable (e.g. opening a window and removing blankets)
    • Involuntary isolation or confinement
    • Misuse of medication (e.g. over-sedation)
    • Forcible feeding or withholding food
    • Unauthorised restraint, restricting movement (e.g. tying someone to a chair)
    • Signs and indicators Open
  2. Domestic violence/abuse:
    • Psychological
    • Physical
    • Sexual
    • Financial
    • Emotional
  3. Types of neglect & acts of omission
    • Failure to provide or allow access to food, shelter, clothing, heating, stimulation and activity, personal or medical care
    • Providing care in a way that the person dislikes
    • Failure to administer medication as prescribed
    • Refusal of access to visitors
    • Not taking account of individuals’ cultural, religious or ethnic needs
    • Not taking account of educational, social and recreational needs
    • Ignoring or isolating the person
    • Preventing the person from making their own decisions
    • Preventing access to glasses, hearing aids, dentures, etc.
    • Failure to ensure privacy and dignity
    • Signs and indicators Open
  4. Types of self-neglect
    • Lack of self-care to an extent that it threatens personal health and safety
    • Neglecting to care for one’s personal hygiene, health or surroundings
    • Inability to avoid self-harm
    • Failure to seek help or access services to meet health and social care needs
    • Inability or unwillingness to manage one’s personal affairs

Newer Forms Of Abuse

Some newer forms of abuse have developed as a result of the ever increasing use of the internet and technology. Below are the signs of digital abuse:

  • Bullying and harassment: Sending insulting or threatening texts or social media messages; putting you down in social media posts; tagging you in hurtful posts or photos; posting embarrassing photos of you
  • Monitoring and stalking: Stealing or demanding to know your passwords; looking through your phone or computer without permission; using location tagging or spyware to monitor and track you; posing as you online; remotely controlling your smart home devices to intimidate you
  • Sexual coercion: Demanding you take or send explicit photos or videos you aren’t comfortable with; sending you explicit photos or videos without your consent; sharing your photos or videos with others; taking photos or videos of you without your knowledge
  • Possessiveness and control: Deciding who you can follow or be friends with online; controlling who you can text or message; demanding your constant attention through technology; making you feel unsafe for not responding to messages immediately

If any of these descriptions were accurate to the way you were treated as a child, there’s a good chance you were abused. The shocking truth is that new cases of child abuse are reported every 10 seconds across the UK and these are just the reported cases. Take solace in the fact that you aren’t alone and that there is help for you!

Child Abuse Creates Trauma

It’s impossible to understand the effect that childhood abuse has on addiction without knowing how it impacts the child. The sad truth is that abuse causes extreme feelings of trauma in children that don’t just verge on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but fall into their own unique version of it. The most immediate impact that childhood abuse has on children is the creation of a sense of severe shame, self-blame, guilt or embarrassment.

This idea is borne out in the paper “Predicting PTSD Symptoms In Victims Of Violent Crime: The Role Of Shame, Anger, and Childhood Abuse,” which reaches a simple and direct conclusion: “The results suggest that both shame and anger play an important role in the phenomenology of crime-related PTSD and that shame makes a contribution to the subsequent course of symptoms. The findings are also consistent with previous evidence for the role of shame as a mediator between childhood abuse and adult psychopathology.”

In other words, children who are abused fall into a state of post-traumatic stress disorder which may be severe enough to lead to serious psychopathic problems in their future. This is heart-wrenching stuff to read, but it’s even harder when reading the results of a study published in Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences, which stated “….abused children who develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may experience a biologically distinct form of the disorder from PTSD caused by other types of trauma later in life.”

Without getting into too much detail, the study found that abused children didn’t just suffer from physical and psychological problems, but were actually changed on a chemical and even genetic level.

These changes negatively impacted the way that the child developed later in life, interfering with their cognitive development and potentially causing problems as diverse as depression, anxiety disorders and even schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder or bipolar disorder.

What’s truly scary about these findings is that these genetic changes were often permanent in children. All trauma causes some form of genetic change, according to the study, but in older adults, those changes are temporarily and easily fixed.

It’s truly sad to read this information, but it does explain why so many abused children fall victim to drug addiction later in life.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) & Addiction

While many children are given the helping hand they need to recover from post-traumatic stress disorder, others aren’t so lucky. This is a major problem because this condition can quickly deteriorate and cause increasing disorders in a person’s life.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (aka PTSD) causes a variety of reactions, including anxiety, depression, nightmares, a sense of being “under attack” at all times, thoughts of hopelessness, the idea that you are worthless and others.

Children suffering under these feelings don’t have the coping mechanisms that adults have later in life that they have learnt through life experience. They’ve yet to understand the joyful reality that our destinies are in our own hands and that they can positively change their lives.

As a result, many of these children later turn to drugs and alcohol to alleviate their symptoms. Statistics and various studies back up this unfortunate truth.

“The Role of Uncontrollable Trauma in the Development of PTSD and Alcohol Addiction” by Dr.Joseph Volpicelli, Dr. Donald Bux, and others, found that post-traumatic stress disorder raised the risk of later substance use by as much as 20%.

They also found that women with PTSD were much more likely to misuse drugs, with 30% to 57% suffering from PTSD alongside addiction, causing a dual diagnosis.

Treating PTSD symptoms with drugs and alcohol is an understandable temptation to escape the thoughts, feelings and emotions that are experienced by the abusee.

After all, these substances relieve (if only temporarily) feelings of emotional and possibly physical pain and puts you in a state where you don’t have to worry about your problems, the way you feel, the thoughts you’re experiencing or the physical pain that can manifest as a result of abuse.

Unfortunately, substance misuse and addiction is a trap that will only further disrupt your life and ultimately magnify the emotional feelings associated with the previously experienced abuse.

Being addicted to substances only numbs the way you feel for a short period of time. When the drugs or alcohol wear off, those feelings and thoughts will still be there waiting for you, except this time, they’ll be bigger and harder to overcome. This increases the amount of effort that you need to apply to overcome the problems that have been waiting for you. It is still however possible to do as many, many people can attest to within their own recovery journeys.

Sadly, this is why addiction and abuse are both so commonly passed on to future generations. A parent who hasn’t dealt with the trauma of their own abuse treats it with drugs and alcohol. As a result, they develop abusive tendencies that cause problems for their own children.

Unless a parent or guardian is a psychopath, none of them enjoy abusing their children. As a result, they are feeding into their own feelings of trauma and worthlessness, further worsening the condition.

Developing PTSD As A Result Of Substance Use

Those with addictions often to things, say things or act in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise if they didn’t have an addiction. This can include:

  • Theft
  • Assault
  • Prostitution
  • Rape
  • Fraud
  • Prison sentences
  • Dealing/selling
  • And others

These experiences can also cause individuals to develop PTSD.

For example, if an individual decides to enter prostitution and then inadvertently ends up being raped. This highly traumatic experience can then trigger PTSD.

This is because they’re dealing with the knock on effects of prostitution, but then also from the rape by one or more individuals. If the person then continues to use to perform sex work, their PTSD will continue to worsen until they stop and treat their addictions, PTSD and other subsequent mental health conditions.

Abuse In Adults

As adults who have been abused previously and haven’t dealt with their own history of abuse, the chances of normalising that abusive behaviours increase, risking the abuse that the parent or guardian experienced onto their own children too.

This is why it’s important to treat the abuse, PTSD, mental health conditions and physical health conditions at the earliest possible opportunity with the help of Doctors/GP’s, drug and alcohol services, mental health services, counsellors, hypnotherapists and others to provide you with a holistic approach to help you overcome the abuse that you’ve experienced as a child.

Likewise, those who’ve experienced abuse in the past are more likely to abuse their husbands, wives or partners.

According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) year ending March 2020, an estimated 5.5% of adults aged 16 to 74 years (2.3 million people) experienced domestic abuse in the last year.

The remaining 59% (758,941) were recorded as domestic abuse-related crimes.

Office For National Statistics

I’m Still Living With My Abuser Or Involved In Domestic Violence, What Can I Do?

If you are experiencing abuse from your partner, deciding what to do can take time – leaving is a process. Here are some tips for increasing your safety and the safety of your children whilst you consider your options.

This page is a starting point. It is important to access specialist support as well – particularly if you are considering leaving. You can call Refuge’s expert Helpline team, 24-hours a day, on 0808 2000 247. We won’t tell you what to do, and we won’t judge you, but we can support you to understand your options and make a plan. We can let you know about specialist services in your community and help you find a refuge place. In an emergency situation, call 999.

Tell someone: Is there a friend, neighbour, or family member you trust? Let them know you might be at risk from your partner. Arrange a secret code with someone who lives close by (like ringing and hanging up, or a blank text), that lets them know you need help. You could also think about telling a professional you trust for example your GP.

Get specialist support: There are likely to be local charities in your area that can provide ongoing support, without your partner finding out. Many have ‘drop ins’, where you can access support without having made an appointment. You can phone our Helpline for referrals to services in your area, or you can look them up online. If you are searching online, remember that your partner might be tracking your search history – try and use a computer they do not have access to (e.g. at work, or in a public library). Find out more about safer browsing here, and keeping your devices safe from your partner here.

Contact the police: Be ready to call 999 if you or your children are in danger. You can also call 101 in a non-emergency situation to report previous incidents or get advice from the local domestic abuse team.

Keep a record: Think about ways you can gather evidence of your partner’s behaviour safely. Make notes of abusive incidents, including times, dates, names and details of how it made you feel. Tell your GP, so they have a record of the abuse. Save any abusive messages. These can be used as evidence at a later date. However, make sure they aren’t stored anywhere (physically, or digitally) where your partner might find them. You can find out more about the ways your partner might use technology to abuse you here.

Know your rights and options: Find out about your legal and housing rights and talk to a solicitor if possible. Explore what civil or criminal options might be available to you, including restraining orders and injunctions such as non-molestation and occupation orders (which can ban an abuser from your home). You can find information on this website, or call the Helpline to talk it through.

Financial independence: If it is possible to do so without alerting your partner, start putting some money aside for if you need to leave in a hurry. You could also think about ways you might gain financial independence away from your partner, in the future. You can find more information.

Make copies of passports, birth certificates, court orders, marriage certificates, and keep them in a safe place. You could ask someone you trust to keep copies safe for you.

In an emergency: If your partner is pursuing you, or attacking you, ring 999 as soon as possible. You could also:

  • Plan an escape route – think about where you will go so you can call the police or alert a neighbour, and plan a place to meet with your children if you get separated.
  • Move to lower-risk parts of your home, where there is an escape route or access to a phone
  • Avoid rooms like the kitchen or garage, which contain objects that could be used to hurt you
  • Teach your children how to call 999 in an emergency
  • If you are not able to get out of the house, barricade or lock yourself into a room, from which you can call the police and contact friends/family or neighbours

Don’t suffer in silence. You can overcome abuse or domestic violence. Reach out to organisations, charities and groups who can help you. You can find contact information for them on our help and support page here.

Abuse In The Elderly

As we all get older, our priorities begin to change, our overall health and well-being worsens, for example our hearing, memory and our mobility gets worse. This opens the elderly up for possible exploitation and abuse, especially when they’re alone, cannot defend themselves and unable to tell others about the abuse that they’re experiencing.

Likewise, the possibility for self-neglect or those around them neglecting their basic needs or coursing them in to doing things that they don’t want to, are forced into or don’t understand what’s happening.

That’s why it’s important to come together as a family unit to help one another. This reduces the risk of exploitation or abuse.

Thankfully, Treatment & Support Is Possible

If you have suffered from any type of abuse listed above, believe you have post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD) and are also suffering from addiction, you can escape these problems. Your past defines you, it’s true, but you are also an intelligent adult who is fully in charge of your destiny.

Getting treatment for your addiction will require treating both of the problems that trauma causes.

This is known as “dual diagnosis,” as it treats mental health problems and addiction at the same time. We’ve talked about this treatment method before, but that’s only because it’s so effective in treating co-occurring disorders. You will basically go through two different processes: treatment for your abuse trauma and addiction recovery. The two treatments, occurring simultaneously, will influence one another in positive ways. A typical treatment method will follow this guideline:

  1. Checking in at a rehab center – Here, your condition will be gauged by experts and a treatment method will be decided upon.
  2. Withdrawal treatment – Quitting drugs is a physically painful cycle, but withdrawal treatment will minimize its effects.
  3. Physical health treatment – Any physical health problems, such as pain or malnutrition, caused by your addiction will be carefully treated.
  4. Psychological assessment – Here, you and your counselor will dive into your mind and find where you are suffering. Then, you’ll work together to soothe that pain and find coping mechanisms that minimize your trauma.
  5. Behavioral adjustments – Addiction is often a cycle of negative behavior patterns, so adjusting those behaviors (and negative thought processes) can help you stop a relapse.
  6. Abuse education – Learn more about abuse and its impact on your life to understand why your recovery is so important.
  7. Aftercare methods – Many people need continued outpatient care and time in a halfway house to fully recover from addiction. Others will need ongoing psychological treatment for their trauma. Fighting addiction lasts the rest of your life and aftercare techniques support you in the trenches of this tough war.

Your exact treatment will vary, depending on your needs and desires. For example, you might be able to integrate meditation and spiritual elements into your recovery, or even family counseling. For people who’ve suffered from childhood abuse, talking with parents is often a great way to make peace with that past. Talking with your children is also key if they suffered from any abuse at your doing or if they are simply concerned about your well-being.

Break The Cycle Today

The sad truth about addiction and child abuse is that they often create a cycle that affects generations in a single-family. An abusive father might cause his son to turn to drugs later in life. Then, when he has children, his addiction and abuse trauma might compel him to abuse his own children. At some point, this cycle of trauma and addiction needs to be broken.

We’re here to tell you that it’s possible to break it and to help you do it. At, we have a variety of addiction experts who will help you beat addiction and give your children the kind of lives you want them to have. In this way, you can get back on your feet and become an amazing and sober parent.

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Published by Drink ’n’ Drugs

Providing useful, relevant, up to date information and support for those suffering from active addiction or those who are in recovery.

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