Recovering from Childhood Trauma and Alcoholism

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Childhood Trauma and Alcoholism

Experiencing a traumatic event at any age can cause lasting pain and emotional fallout. However, childhood traumas are particularly damaging to the young psyche. A child hasn’t yet developed the tools to cope with disturbing events, leaving them feeling vulnerable and powerless. As adults, the residual effects of childhood trauma often lead to alcohol abuse and, ultimately, alcoholism.

Understanding Childhood Trauma

When a child is exposed to a traumatic event it leaves a deep scar on their psyche. This is especially when it is a repeated trauma as in ongoing physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Childhood trauma can take many forms, such as:

  • Physical abuse. 
  • Sexual abuse. 
  • Neglect
  • Being raised by addicted parent.
  • Death of a parent.

10 Signs of Childhood Trauma

The effects of childhood trauma can persist in adulthood. This is true even if the memories of childhood trauma are somewhat repressed, or at least not in present consciousness. Here are ten signs of childhood trauma in adults:

  1. Low self-esteem. Fear of being judged by others; lack boundaries; people pleaser..
  2. Depression. Dysthymia, or persistent depression, is a long-term effect of childhood trauma. This may be expressed by irrational feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or shame, feeling that they were somehow to blame.
  3. Mood swings. Strong emotions, anger, and toxic stress can cause extreme mood swings.
  4. Insecure attachment style. If you were neglected, abused, or had an absent parent you may have an unhealthy attachment style. This can make it hard to form stable, healthy relationships.
  5. Sensitive to triggers. You have a strong emotional reaction when you encounter a person, place, or thing that triggers memories of the trauma.
  6. Chronic pain or illness. As an adult, you tend to struggle with chronic pain or being susceptible to illness.
  7. Fear of abandonment. Because trust bonds were broken in childhood, it causes you to have an intense fear of abandonment in adulthood.
  8. Dissociative episodes. When you feel overwhelmed you may shut down emotionally and feel detached and numb.
  9. PTSD. PTSD is a prolonged trauma response that does not resolve. Symptoms of PTSD include emotional detachment, substance abuse, nightmares, hyper-arousal, guilt, flashbacks, avoidance behaviors, and depression.
  10. Substance abuse. Maladaptive coping techniques caused by childhood trauma include substance abuse and behavioral addictions.

Different Types of Trauma Disorder

There are different ways that childhood trauma can manifest itself. Three types of trauma disorders include:

  • PTSD. A long-term, persistent response to having witnessed or experienced an overwhelming traumatic event. Debilitating PTSD symptoms may persist into adulthood. There is a high occurrence of a co-existing substance abuse among those who suffer from PTSD. 


  • Acute Stress Disorder (ASD). Caused by a traumatic event and has the same types of symptoms as PTSD, but lasts less than one month.


  • Adjustment Disorder. The inability to cope with a stressful life event. A single highly stressful event, or a series of stressful events, may cause so much emotional distress that it causes impairment in daily life. Adjustment disorders may last up to six months in duration.

Childhood Trauma Linked to Alcoholism

Studies reveal that a large percentage of adults with alcohol dependency have a history of childhood trauma. Of the various types of childhood trauma linked to alcohol addiction, emotional abuse ranks highest. In fact, treatment-seeking alcoholics were more than ten times as likely to have experienced childhood emotional abuse than non-alcoholic subjects.

 Childhood trauma, whether repressed or acknowledged, continues to play out in adulthood. The emotional pain that still exists often leads to mental health issues, like depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Alcohol use becomes a common coping tool to numb the symptoms of anxiety or depression that persist. Too often this maladaptive coping technique develops into alcohol use disorder.

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PTSD and Alcohol Use Disorder Dual Diagnosis

PTSD is a mental health disorder that represents a more extreme outcome of childhood trauma. This unresolved trauma affects multiple realms of the adult’s mental health and daily functioning. Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Flashbacks, nightmares, or disturbing memories.
  • Avoiding places, people, or things that might trigger thoughts of the trauma.
  • Easily startled.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Anger
  • Blocking memories of the childhood trauma.
  • Feelings of guilt and shame.
  • Loss of interest.
  • Detachment
  • Substance abuse.

Using alcohol to self-medicate the effects of childhood trauma can result in alcohol use disorder. This then becomes a dual diagnosis: PTSD plus alcohol use disorder.

Overcoming Childhood Trauma and Alcoholism

When it’s time to seek professional support for co-occurring trauma disorder and alcohol use disorder, a dual diagnosis program is the best option. A dual diagnosis program treats both disorders concurrently. You will engage in evidence-based therapies that are specific to the underlying emotional trauma. In addition, you’ll go through alcohol detox and addiction treatment.

There are specific therapies that are highly effective in aiding trauma recovery. These trauma therapies can be used in both one-on-one and group sessions. They include:

  • Trauma-Focused CBT.
  • Psychodynamic Therapy. 
  • Exposure Therapy.
  • EMDR

To treat the alcoholism, you will participate in the following activities:

  • 12-step program.
  • Individual and group therapy.
  • Education.
  • Holistic treatment methods.

Recovery from childhood trauma and co-occurring alcohol use disorder is possible. Do not hesitate to reach out for help.

Annandale Behavioral Health Residential Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Annandale Behavioral Health provides exceptional dual diagnosis treatment for clients who struggle with the effects of trauma and addiction. If you or a loved one experienced childhood trauma that led to alcoholism, our compassionate team is here to help. Please reach out today at (855) 778-8668