The Lingering Effects of Childhood Trauma on Healing and Recovery

Apr 18, 2024

When individuals consider the impact of trauma on their mental or emotional well-being, it is common to consider only recent traumatic events and circumstances. Despite what some may believe, however, the trauma we endure from childhood can especially leave a lasting imprint on our healing and recovery journey. Without addressing and overcoming unresolved childhood trauma, individuals are more likely to relapse and/or experience added complications throughout long-term recovery. Thus, processing and overcoming childhood trauma during treatment is a critical component of lasting sobriety. 

At Renaissance Ranch, we understand the powerful role that unresolved childhood trauma often plays in both informing and perpetuating substance abuse. Likewise, traumatic events alter brain structure and functioning, making individuals more vulnerable to developing mental health disorders and distress. Our treatment center offers a full continuum of care for adult men seeking healing from these concerns and more. By addressing childhood trauma in treatment, our clients will have the best chance at securing lasting success in sobriety and recovery. 

Understanding Childhood Trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

As discovered in research conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “More than two thirds of children reported at least 1 traumatic event by age 16.” Potentially traumatic events that occur during childhood (0-17 years) are commonly known as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Both SAMHSA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shed light on the following examples of ACEs:

  • Experiencing psychological, physical, or sexual abuse or neglect
  • Witnessing psychological, physical, or sexual abuse or neglect
  • Experiencing natural disasters
  • Living through refugee or war experiences
  • Experiencing the sudden or violent loss of a loved one
  • Growing up in a household with substance abuse or other untreated mental health problems
  • Experiencing military-family-related stressors (such as deployment or parental loss)
  • Being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness

This is not an exhaustive list of ACEs. It is important to remember that trauma is subjective, and many other types of traumatic experiences can trigger lasting effects on an individual’s health and well-being. Meanwhile, these events, as well as the associated traumatic stress they can bring to a child’s life, are linked to numerous adverse development outcomes and health outcomes throughout both adolescent and adult life. 

The Lingering Effects of Childhood Trauma

As the National Insitute of Mental Health (NIMH) explains, “It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear is a part of the body’s “fight-or-flight” response, which helps us avoid or respond to potential danger.” However, when this fight-or-flight is chronically overactivated as a result of repeated trauma or otherwise is unable to return to its normal state when a threat has ceased, it surely takes a toll on every process and function of the body. Often, childhood trauma leads to the long-term activation of this stress response, putting individuals at risk of long-term health problems.

It can be common for survivors of ACEs and other complex childhood traumas to struggle to effectively process what they went through, which can trigger both emotional and physical symptoms. Meanwhile, the signs and symptoms of traumatic stress can vary in each person. For instance, young children may become anxious or withdrawn, struggle with learning problems, and have a hard time sleeping. In addition, middle and high school children may experience depression, engage in self-harming behaviors, use alcohol or other drugs, and become involved in risky sexual behavior.

Additional effects of childhood trauma on adulthood include, but are not limited to:

  • Lack of emotion or learned emotional detachment
  • Dissociation
  • Symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Hypervigilance
  • Increased interpersonal conflict
  • Problems with memory
  • Developmental delays
  • Cognitive impairments

How Can Unresolved Childhood Trauma Impact Recovery?

As SAMHSA highlights, “Trauma is a risk factor for nearly all behavioral health and substance use disorders.” Commonly, youth and adults alike turn to self-destructive behaviors, like substance abuse, in an attempt to self-medicate their past traumatic experiences or associated mental health struggles. While alcohol and other drugs may seem to provide temporary relief from symptoms, substance use will only exacerbate mental health problems in the long term. 

When an individual seeks out treatment for substance abuse or another mental health concern, they may not realize that they will need to address trauma from their past to effectively establish and sustain recovery. Yet, as these concerns often develop from unresolved childhood trauma, leaving such complex experiences unaddressed can increase the risk of relapse and other health problems in recovery. Even if an individual learns effective coping skills for managing substance abuse cravings in treatment, they may feel tempted to use alcohol and other drugs to self-medicate at the next sign of distress in their life. 

Addressing Childhood Trauma in Treatment

In treatment at Renaissance Ranch, each of our clients will have the opportunity to work through unresolved trauma and the complex and uncomfortable emotions like fear, sadness, and guilt that often accompany it. We offer a variety of treatment programs and therapeutic interventions to help individualize our client care. Each client will work with our clinical experts to create a treatment plan that is tailored to their unique situation, needs, and goals for recovery.

Using a combination of evidence-based practices, a 12-Step, spiritual and faith-based approach, and trauma-informed treatment, our clients will have the peer support and professional guidance they need to achieve lasting recovery not only from substance abuse or mental health distress but also from any underlying childhood trauma. 

Childhood trauma, or adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), trigger lasting consequences to an individual’s development and well-being not only during childhood but throughout adulthood as well. Though the effects of unresolved childhood trauma vary from person to person, trauma is a well-known risk factor for all types of mental and behavioral health disorders. Meanwhile, for those in addiction recovery, unresolved childhood trauma can increase the risk of relapse and other health complications throughout long-term sobriety. At Renaissance Ranch, we offer a wide range of treatment programs aimed at helping adult men process and overcome substance abuse, mental health concerns, and the trauma(s) that may have triggered their development. Learn more by calling (801) 308-8898 today.