People who were abused during childhood have a greater chance of becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol later in life. Understanding the link between these phenomena is an important step towards receiving effective treatment.


Addiction is considered a disease, and there are a number of factors that can contribute to its development – one of which is abuse during childhood. According to a study conducted by the National Institute on Drub Abuse, two-thirds of people in treatment for drug abuse report that they were physically, sexually, or emotionally abused during childhood.

Children who were raised in calm and nurturing environments tend to have higher levels of resiliency in life and are able to adapt to various life situations. Those who had experienced childhood trauma are 4600% more inclined to become addicts than those who have not, according to Dr. Felitti, a renowned researcher and physician.

Correlation Between Trauma and Addiction

A study in 2012 led by researchers from the National institute on Drug Abuse, involving 196 people, both women and men who were undergoing inpatient alcohol treatment, revealed that 55% of the participants experienced childhood trauma. Over 30% of them endured physical abuse (i.e. beating), 24% had been sexually abused, 21% had been emotional abused, and 20% reported emotional and physical neglect respectively.

The study concluded that a history of emotional abuse raised the chances of developing a mood disorder, especially major depressive disorder, along with post-traumatic stress disorder. Individuals who had been sexually abused likewise had a higher risk of developing an anxiety disorder as well.

In 2013, another study entitled, “Childhood Trauma Exposure and Alcohol Dependence Severity in Adulthood: Mediation by Emotional Abuse Severity and Neuroticism” provides more insight into the correlation between childhood abuse and alcohol abuse as an adult.

Researchers made comparisons between a group of individuals who were seeking treatment for alcohol abuse and a control group that had no current or former issues with drinking.

Both groups were evaluated for having experienced five different types of abuse during their childhood – physical and emotional abuse, physical and emotional neglect, and sexual abuse. In addition to determining whether the group had actually experienced these traumas, researchers assessed the severity of the trauma. All participants were evaluated for a variety of personality traits.

Researchers discovered that of those people seeking treatment for alcohol abuse, childhood trauma, both neglect and direct abuse, was prominent. Additionally, the severity of their alcohol related issues was directly linked to the severity of their childhood trauma. This means that the more severe the childhood trauma, the more severe the alcohol abuse as an adult – with neglect and abuse being the two types of trauma most often experienced by those with alcohol problems.

Aside from the correlation between childhood trauma and addiction, the study also explored the results of personality tests that all participants took. Researchers discovered that the group with drinking problems and childhood trauma had higher levels of anger, anxiety and depression, and have often reacted impulsively to these emotions. It was concluded that their impulsive behaviour could lead to drinking alcohol as a coping mechanism or a way to numb undesirable feelings.

Healing from Abuse and Addiction

Addicted people who have experienced childhood trauma can benefit from addiction treatment, which should also incorporate treatment of childhood trauma. Dr. Felitti believes that the ideal way to treat those suffering from addiction and trauma is with compassion and empathy. Felitti argued that “The person using (drugs) is not using them to have a problem; they’re using drugs to find a solution.”

Even though some addicted people have not experienced childhood abuse or neglect, more than half have experienced some form of childhood stress. Although not all addiction related behaviour is caused by childhood trauma, there is definitely a strong link. Because addiction often occurs as a result of traumatic life experiences – such as childhood abuse, emotional or physical abuse by a partner, betrayal by a trusted loved one or even an employer – addiction and trauma need to be co-treated, for when trauma is present but not addressed, addiction relapse rates are high.

At The Cabin Hong Kong, we strive to provide leading integrative addiction treatment. Our addiction specialists are specially trained in treating trauma and provide an advanced and effective trauma and addiction treatment programme. This ensures holistic emotional repair and growth, allowing someone to experience long-term addiction recovery.

If you or someone you know is dealing with an addiction, contact us at The Cabin Hong Kong to find out what options are available.