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2020 Guide to Understanding
the Impacts of Childhood Trauma

Table of Contents

  1. Overview of Childhood Trauma
  2. Causes of Trauma
  3. Trauma Symptoms
  4. Childhood Trauma and Addiction
  5. Misdiagnosing PTSD and ADHD
  6. Impacts of Childhood Trauma
  7. Domestic Abuse
  8. Trauma from Sexual Abuse
  9. Physical Abuse
  10. Trauma from Emotional Abuse
  11. Helping Children Deal with Trauma
  12. Treating Addiction
  13. The Bottom Line

Overview of Childhood Trauma

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an estimated two-thirds of children have experienced some kind of trauma by the age of 16. 1 Childhood trauma can take many forms, including physical and sexual abuse, loss of a loved one, or life-threatening illness.

Early trauma can lead to many mental and physical health concerns. Children who have experienced trauma may be more likely to have problems in school and suffer from substance abuse problems later in life.2 Without treatment and safe places in their lives, they may have lifelong difficulty establishing trusting relationships with others.

Causes of Trauma

According to the American Psychological Association, a traumatic event is one that “threatens injury, death, or the physical integrity of self or others and also causes horror, terror, or helplessness at the time it occurs.”1

Examples of traumatic events include:

Car accidents

Community and school violence

Domestic violence

Medical trauma

Natural disasters

Physical abuse

Sexual abuse

Being in military family, deployment, loss of a parent, or an injury


Traumatic losses

Trauma Happens Early

An estimated 66 percent of children report experiencing a traumatic event before age 16, according to the American Psychological Association.1

Many researchers study trauma caused by community violence. Community violence is exposure to acts of violence in public areas by individuals who don’t have a relationship with the victim.

Statistics related to childhood trauma experiences include:


An estimated 39 to 85 percent of people report witnessing community violence. Of those, 66 percent are estimated to be victims of community violence themselves.

An estimated 25 to 43 percent of young people have experienced sexual abuse.

In 2006, an estimated 400,000 children in the United States experienced injuries related to sexual violence.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) surveyed young people ages 12 to 17 years old.1 Some of the key findings include:

8% Experienced a Sexual Assault
17% Experienced a Physical Assault
39% Witnessed Community Violence

Not only are young people bullied physically, but they are also bullied on the Internet and their phones. According to SAMHSA, an estimated one in six school-aged children reported experiencing cyberbullying.3

While a young person might not realize it at the time, some of the trauma they experience can stick with them.

Behavioral and Psychological Trauma Symptoms

Children are not always good at sharing or understanding the emotions they feel after a traumatic experience. As a result, parents or loved ones may observe other unexpected changes.1 Examples of these symptoms include:

Anger and Rage
Complaining they feel unwell without actually being ill
Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
Problems concentrating
Reporting new fears of being afraid of many everyday activities
Seperation anxiety, having problems being away from parents/authority figures
Struggling in school
These symptoms can affect a child’s relationship with their family, friends, teachers, and peers.
00:10 we need to take a statement so we can 00:12 establish what happened on Saturday 00:14 night what time did you get back to 00:18 David’s flat what time I don’t know can 00:24 you give us an estimate I don’t remember 00:29 would your pals remember what time you 00:31 left the club he seemed nice 00:41 she don’t remember much dead she I know 00:44 I know we’ve got to waste more time on a 00:46 da Fletcher we know how to deal with 00:48 victims with a Jersey experience well 00:50 some of us have had more years than 00:51 others I’m in my plane I’ll have you 00:53 know Davide today’s session is about 01:00 trauma the latest in brain science will 01:03 help you in your work I’ll start with a 01:06 tour of the parts of the human brain the 01:10 reptilian brain maintains basic bodily 01:12 functions the limbic system is also 01:16 instinctive it deals with fear and 01:18 pleasure for example you pat a dog 01:21 it senses pleasure and without thinking 01:23 wives its tail the neocortex is the site 01:28 of logic imagination planning and 01:30 control it’s more sophisticated but 01:33 because it’s conscious it’s slower than 01:36 the older parts of the brain the 01:38 amygdala is a key part of the limbic 01:40 system it has one job to send danger and 01:43 set off the alarm when it’s a matter of 01:48 survival the primitive parts of the 01:50 brain override the conscious part there 01:53 are three possible survival responses 01:56 fight flight or the one that people 02:01 don’t think of freeze when the alarm 02:05 goes off blood and oxygen are diverted 02:08 to muscles adrenaline floods the body 02:10 and all systems that are not crucial to 02:12 survival are switched off normally the 02:17 job of the hippocampus is to file 02:18 memories so you can achieve them later 02:20 but in times of danger it stopped filing 02:23 memories which makes it harder to gather 02:25 evidence later on instead the 02:28 hippocampus switches to pumping cortisol 02:30 what’s useful about cortisol is it stops 02:33 us feeling pain so we can focus on 02:36 survival can anyone give me an example a 02:38 farm an accident where a man carried a 02:41 zone arm for a mile with luke feeling 02:43 any pain yes excellent example it is an 02:46 evolutionary safety mechanism which is 02:49 fast and 02:49 Sanctus in essence it’s our bodies very 02:52 clever way of protecting us to recap an 02:57 example of the three parts of the brain 02:59 working together you’re standing at a 03:01 bar your reptilian brain is keeping your 03:05 heart beating you’re enjoying the 03:06 pleasure of a nice pint with your limbic 03:08 system you’re using your neocortex to 03:11 work out if there’s time for another 03:13 before the last train what could happen 03:16 to make the amygdala kick in what if 03:19 this happened the way you’d respond 03:23 would depend not on your logical brain 03:25 but on your instinctive brain being 03:29 glassed in a bar would be a traumatic 03:31 experience who can give me another 03:33 example of an event that can cause 03:35 trauma war rape a car crash 03:39 good yes trauma occurs when a person is 03:43 overwhelmed by something beyond their 03:45 control the survival brain takes over 03:48 the rational brain it can lead to 03:50 post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD with 03:53 symptoms that last at least a month 03:56 vicarious or secondary trauma is 03:59 something you may experience if you deal 04:01 with incidents such as rape or sudden 04:04 death or think of Lockerbie Dunblane you 04:08 are not superheroes 04:09 having a brain makes you all vulnerable 04:11 to secondary trauma it’s important to 04:15 understand that when trauma occurs again 04:17 and again it can become complex PTSD 04:20 such as in domestic abuse or child 04:23 sexual abuse the alarm system in the 04:27 brain becomes jammed memories are stuck 04:31 in the limbic system so a trigger can 04:33 set off the alarm the trigger could be 04:36 anything a colour smell a sound a 04:39 sensation no the indicators of trauma 04:43 what should you be looking out for 04:45 depression flying a lot yes that’s one 04:49 response and at the other end of the 04:51 spectrum total numbness nightmares 04:55 flashbacks stress good yes and they may 05:00 feel sick 05:01 also shame feelings of guilt inability 05:04 to enjoy sex social isolation triggers 05:08 people often feel overwhelmed by the 05:10 symptoms of trauma this can lead to 05:13 using alcohol or other drugs to block 05:15 out memories or self-harm or 05:17 dissociation when a person’s mind 05:19 detaches from reality indicators can be 05:23 specific to the type of trauma say 05:25 dental problems when someone who was 05:27 orally abused avoids going to the 05:29 dentist a victim of abuse might born 05:32 strongly to her abuser this is known as 05:34 traumatic bonding or Stockholm Syndrome 05:37 and jumbled up memory when a person’s 05:40 normal recording of memories doesn’t 05:42 work can you recall any times you’ve 05:44 seen that symptom what time I don’t know 05:49 a traumatized person may not seem like 05:51 her usual self or may be hyper-vigilant 05:54 on edge are being startled by everyday 05:57 things 06:01 every one is different you never know 06:04 what impact trauma will have symptoms 06:07 can change from day to day so what does 06:11 all this mean in practice in your job a 06:15 traumatized person’s brain is protecting 06:18 them but that normal human response of 06:20 self-protection can get in the way of 06:22 evidence gathering the US military has 06:26 developed new trauma-informed 06:27 interviewing techniques that you can use 06:30 to work around this research shows that 06:33 if someone seems vacant they could be 06:35 distracted by their traumatic memories 06:38 try to ground them by asking a simple 06:41 non patronizing questions such as are 06:44 you thirsty do you want a glass of water 06:46 this can help bring them back to the 06:48 here and now don’t expect a logical 06:52 linear story ask what can you recall 06:54 just now find out what the victim 06:57 physically felt or saw working this way 07:00 from the instinctive sensory parts 07:03 towards the logical parts of the brain 07:05 you’ll get more results in conclusion 07:09 four things for you to take away trauma 07:12 response is the brain in survival mode 07:16 repeated abuse can make trauma symptoms 07:18 worse 07:20 in response to trauma people will behave 07:23 in unexpected ways 07:25 remember trauma is a normal human 07:29 response to abnormal events we know that 07:40 you’ve gone through a really painful 07:41 experience but we need to take a 07:43 statement to understand what happened on 07:45 Saturday night are you able to tell us 07:48 anything that you remember about is flat 07:50 anything at all 07:51 a dog barking are you able to remember 07:57 any physical sensations or feelings that 07:59 you had second it smoke can smell it now 08:05 what was in through your mind I couldn’t 08:08 understand that I just couldn’t move or 08:11 even scream to freeze is a perfectly 08:15 normal response so you start with the 08:20 memories you doing start at the 08:21 beginning you have to engage their 08:23 feelings to get to the facts make sense 08:25 check your professor getting all signs 08:27 he honors well if it gives us usable 08:29 evidence does life a new dog yet 08:42 you

Symptoms by Age

The symptoms can vary based on the child’s age. The following are some examples of childhood trauma symptoms a person may show depending on their age:


  • Having strong separation anxiety
  • Crying or screaming more frequently
  • Refusing to eat
  • Having nightmares

Elementary Preschoolers

  • Starting to act anxious
  • Acting afraid of many things
  • Having problems sleeping, such as having frequent nightmares
  • Having teachers notice the child doesn’t concentrate like they used to

Middle and High Schoolers

  • Reporting feeling depressed and alone
  • Engaging in self-harm, such as cutting
  • Starting to abuse alcohol and drugs
  • Engaging in risky behaviors, such as sexual activity

Listen Closely to What the Child Says

Often, young people who are going through trauma report feeling bad about themselves and can say things like:

"I'm a bad kid."

"No one understands me."

"It's all my fault."

"Is something wrong with me?"

Recognizing childhood trauma and providing treatment as soon as possible can help reduce the likelihood of troubling side effects like long-term health problems and increased risks for behavioral and substance abuse disorders.3

Get Help Now (949) 763-3440

Has childhood trauma led to substance abuse for you or someone you love? Asana Recovery can help heal your body and mind.

The Connections Between Childhood Trauma and Addiction

Several studies have connected childhood trauma with increased risks for addiction to drugs and alcohol.4 According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, teens who have experienced physical/sexual assault or abuse were three times more likely to experience substance abuse problems compared to those who had not.3

Another survey of young people who were receiving treatment for substance abuse found that 70 percent of participants experienced trauma in the past.3

PTSD and Addiction

Doctors have also connected post-traumatic stress disorder in children with increased risk for substance abuse problems.4 According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, an estimated 59 percent of young people with PTSD later develop a substance abuse disorder.

Unfortunately, doctors have found that trauma can be a two-way street. Those who experienced trauma are at greater risk for substance abuse.4 On the other hand, those who abuse substances have a greater risk of experiencing traumatic events.


Doctors know that some people turn to substance abuse as a means to self-medicate. This means they try to escape their problems by using drugs or alcohol instead of seeking medical treatment for help. Having a history of PTSD increases the chance of self-medicating. If there is a triggering event that reminds them of their past trauma, they are more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to try and feel better.

Substance Use Disorder Before Trauma

According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, an estimated 45 to 66 percent of young people had a substance use disorder before they experienced some kind of trauma, such as sexual or physical abuse. Unfortunately, a person with a substance use disorder typically has an even harder time with recovery. Some experts say this is because people who abuse substances may have a hard time coping with stress and trauma.

00:00 All right, so you might have read “The Hobbit” or “The Lord of the Rings,” you have probably 00:03 seen them, you’ve definitely heard of them. But not everyone knows the story of their 00:07 author, J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien was an English World War One veteran. A reluctant solider, 00:13 he joined up with a sense of duty and he lived through the bloody battle of Somme suffering 00:18 tremendous shock, guilt, and loss during and after the war. 00:22 It took Tolkien years to processes his experiences. To help him do it he turned to writing fiction 00:27 and in time he constructed a world that helped him and all of us better understand war, human 00:33 nature, loss, and growth. His novels were the bi-product of trauma and they’re among 00:37 the more beautiful reminders of how it can affect us. 00:39 Most of us will experience some kind of traumatic event in our lives and most of us will exhibit 00:44 some kind of stress related behavior because of it, these symptoms usually fade but for 00:49 some those reactions can linger and start of disrupt their lives or the lives of those 00:53 around them. These reactions can develop into full blown psychological disorders including 00:57 post-traumatic stress disorder and, in an effort to cope, sometimes addiction, but it doesn’t 01:01 always have to be that way. 01:03 Ultimately, Tolkien was able to harness the effect of his trauma and shape them into something 01:06 important and to reclaim is own life because there is such a thing as post-traumatic growth, too. 01:12 As it does with many other things psychology approaches trauma related disorders with different 01:17 perspectives, but they all tend to ask the same questions. 01:20 How do you identify and diagnose these disorders? And how do you treat them, so that the patients 01:24 can recover? — With the understanding that they might never be the same as they were 01:28 before the trauma, but they can still be healthy and happy. 01:31 In a way, psychology helps patients ask themselves, what Tolkien asks his readers, and what Frodo 01:36 asks when he is finally safe back in the shire: “How do you pick up the threads of an old 01:41 life? How to go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand that there is no going back.” 01:57 It could be September 11 or a serious car accident or a natural disaster or a violent 02:02 crime that you survived but are still haunted by. Trauma comes in many different forms and 02:07 sometimes it can stick with you. 02:09 When it manifests as nightmares, flashbacks, avoidance, fear, guilt, anxiety, rage, insomnia, 02:15 and begins to interfere with your ability to function it can come to be known as post-traumatic 02:20 stress disorder or PTSD. 02:22 It was once call “shell shock” a term used to describe the condition of veterans, like 02:26 Tolkien in World War One but PTSD isn’t limited to veterans. It’s defined as a psychological 02:31 disorder generated by either witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event. Its symptoms 02:36 are classified into four major clusters in the DSM V. 02:40 One of these clusters involves re-living the event through intrusive memories, nightmares, 02:44 or flashbacks. The second involves avoiding situations you associate with the event, while 02:49 the third generally describes excessive physiological arousal like heart pounding, muscle tension, 02:54 anxiety or irritability, and major problems sleeping or concentrating. And finally we 02:59 have the fourth major symptom cluster: pervasive negative changes in emotions and belief, like 03:05 feelings in excessive guilt, fear, or shame — or no longer getting enjoyment out of what you used to. 03:10 PTSD patients may also experience numbing, or periods of feeling emotionless or emotionally 03:15 “flat” and dissociation, feeling as if situations aren’t real or are surreal, feeling like time 03:21 has slowed down or sped up, or even blacking out. 03:23 We have been discussing how anxiety or mood disorders can affect a person’s ability to 03:27 function and how that impairment itself leads to more suffering and dysfunction. 03:32 When any of these disorders is left untreated suffers may start to feel desperate to find 03:36 some way to cope and one way may be substance abuse. Unfortunately, addiction and trauma 03:41 can go hand in hand and it can be hard to recover from one without also dealing with 03:44 the other. According to the US department of Veteran’s Affairs more than 2 in 10 veterans 03:48 with PTSD also struggle with substance abuse problems and 1 in every 3 vets seeking 03:53 treatment for substance abuse also have PTSD. And across many studies, between a third to 03:57 a half of women in treatment for substance abuse have experienced rape or sexual assault. 04:02 For a long time most psychologists understood PTSD through the lens of fear conditioning 04:07 or the unshakable memory of being in mortal danger and the learned responses that stem 04:11 from that memory. But clinicians have also begun to recognize that for some the disorder 04:15 can also be a kind of moral injury, widening the focus to include hauntings not just of 04:21 violence done to a person but also what that person did or did not do to others. 04:26 Brandon was a combat drone operator in the air force he enlisted at 21 years old and 04:30 spent 6 years sitting in a bunker in the American South-West watching Iraq and Afghanistan from 04:35 surveillance drones. 04:36 He watched soldiers die and people get executed. He also watched kids play, people get married, 04:42 goats grazing — and when the time came he ordered hell fire missiles to strike military 04:47 targets or people who had no idea they where even being watched. 04:51 Although he was half a world away from combat, he ultimately suffered the psychological trauma 04:55 felt by many on the ground soldiers. He was diagnosed with PTSD. Brandon suffers no fears 05:00 for his own safety, but still experiences the same intrusive memories, nightmares, depression, 05:06 anxiety, and substance abuse of many emotionally traumatized combat soldiers. So do a lot of 05:11 other drone operators. 05:12 But why do some victims or trauma suffer from PTSD while others seem able to move on? 05:18 Well, its psychology so the risk factors are complicated. Some findings suggest that there 05:22 may be genetic predispositions making some people more vulnerable than others. We also 05:26 know that context and environment matter, for instance, someone who has experienced 05:30 childhood abuse might feel on the one hand more ready to deal with difficult and traumatic 05:35 experiences. But on the other hand they might be more likely to default to the suppression 05:38 and avoidance in which PTSD suffers frequently engage, which as we’ve discussed in previous 05:43 episodes often makes psychiatric symptoms worsen over time. 05:46 As far as whats going on in the brain, PTSD shares some similarities with anxiety disorders. 05:52 For example the brains limbic system may flood the body with waves of stress hormones like 05:56 cortisol every time images of the traumatic event bubble up uninvited into consciousness. 06:01 And we’ve already talked a lot about how the amygdala and hippocampus are involved in those 06:05 classic fight or flight reactions, which when prolonged can be really rough on the body. 06:10 In fact, neuroimaging suggests that trauma — or the chemical processes set into motion 06:14 by trauma — might actually damage and shrink the hippocampus. Since this region is also 06:19 associated with how we consolidate memories, this might explain how memories associated 06:23 with trauma could fail to be filed away as long-term memories and instead remain vivid 06:28 and fresh through flashbacks and nightmares. 06:31 If there’s any silver lining to all of this, it’s that some people may actually experience 06:35 positive change after a trauma. Treatment and social support help some suffers achieve 06:40 post-traumatic growth, positive psychological changes resulting from the struggle with challenging 06:45 circumstances and life crises. 06:47 That’s in part what Tolkien did. Though he suffered great trauma and loss on the battlefield, 06:52 he was eventually able to use those experiences to drive those powerful, allegorical stories. Stories 06:58 that helped not just himself, but many readers of all ages around the world. 07:02 It seems that while whatever doesn’t kill you might not necessarily make you stronger, 07:07 sometimes it really does. 07:09 But suffering can feed on itself. Many victims of trauma try to cope through whats colloquially 07:13 called self-medicating and some can end up with substance abuse or dependence issues. 07:18 Psychologists define addiction or dependence as compulsive, excessive, and difficult-to-control 07:23 substance use, or other, initially pleasurable behavior that beings to interfere with ordinary 07:29 life, work, health, or relationships. 07:31 This could mean over-consuming drugs or alcohol, or compulsively gambling, eating, shopping, 07:36 exercising, or having sex. People with addictions may not even realize that they have lost control 07:40 of their behavior for some time. 07:42 Addiction can refer to a physical dependence, a physiological need for a drug, that reveals 07:47 itself through terrible withdrawal symptoms if the use stops or reduces. Or psychological 07:52 dependence, the need to use that drug, or complete that activity in order to relieve 07:56 negative emotions. 07:57 People with addiction can sometimes be stigmatized as pleasure-bound hedonists who have no self-control, 08:02 but people often compulsively use substances or do things in reaction to stress and other 08:07 psychological problems. For various reasons they have been prevented from coping in other 08:11 ways or maybe they just never learned how. 08:14 So in this way addiction itself is often secondary to the more complicated matter of how a person 08:19 deals with stress and difficult emotions, or what kinds of stressful situations they’ve survived. 08:24 Few will dispute that much of what makes addiction possible is chemistry, but people are different 08:29 — from their life experiences to their biological sensitivities. So people respond in different 08:34 way to different drugs and behaviors. Many people can drink casually or gamble once in 08:39 a while without losing control. Others simply can’t. 08:42 People in recovery from addiction may also have different needs. Some will need to be 08:46 completely sober and never again touch that drug or do that thing. While others may in 08:51 time be able to regain enough control to use again in moderation. 08:55 Likewise, some folks can kick the habit on their own while others do better with or need 08:59 support from professionals or support groups. 09:01 Researchers and groups like Alcoholics Anonymous debate whether addiction is a mental illness 09:06 — like a “software problem” related to thoughts, and behaviors, and feelings — or a physical disease 09:10 — a “hard wire problem” related to biology and genetics — or both, and even whether 09:15 addiction and dependence are the same thing. 09:17 Either way it can be hard to recover from an addiction if you don’t get the underlying 09:21 problem treated. But some people believe that you can’t treat the underlying problem without 09:26 first getting the addiction out of the way. 09:28 While this controversy too continues, many are moving toward a model of treating both 09:32 at at the same time. The so-called Dual Diagnosis Model of treatment. 09:37 Addiction that’s rooted in deeper psychological issues — especially in emotional trauma like 09:40 PTSD — often require some version of dual treatment to untangle both issues. 09:45 The good news is while PTSD and substance dependence may be distressing and complex, 09:50 people can begin to heal given the chance and the resources. 09:53 We’re amazingly resilient creatures. When nurtured with the proper support and practice, we can overcome a lot. 09:59 Today we talked about the causes and symptoms of PTSD and how trauma can affect the brain. 10:04 We also looked at addiction, physical and psychological dependence, the relationship 10:08 between trauma and addiction, and why they can require dual treatment, and we touched on 10:13 post-traumatic growth with the wisdom of Frodo Baggins. 10:16 Thanks for watching, especially to all our subscribers on Subbable who make this show 10:21 possible. To find out how you can become a supporter and help us do this thing just go to 10:25 10:28 This episode was written by Kathleen Yale, edited by Blake de Pastino and our consultant 10:32 is Dr. Ranjit Bhagwat. Our director and editor is Nicolas Jenkins. The script supervisor 10:36 and sound designer is Michael Aranda, and the graphics team is Thought Cafe.

Misdiagnosing PTSD and ADHD

Children who have experienced trauma may have a difficult time forming relationships with other adults, especially if they grow up without a supportive adult figure in their lives. According to Dr. Nancy Rappaport, a child and adolescent psychiatrist interviewed on the Child Mind Institute website, “These kids don’t have the context to ask for help. They don’t have a model for an adult recognizing their needs and giving them what they need.”5 It also makes it hard for children to accurately describe their feelings.

Trauma or ADHD?

Unfortunately, it is difficult for teachers and other adults to identify past trauma as the root of behavioral changes in children. Many people may misdiagnose the child as having a behavioral disorder like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).5 This can be a problem because a child may be disciplined or punished frequently; however the ideal method for helping someone who has experienced trauma is to help them understand their emotions and empower them to change their behavior whenever possible.

ADHD or PTSD from Trauma?

Children with PTSD from trauma are chronically agitated and irritable.5 Many times they have trouble sleeping and problems regulating their emotions. They may be extremely afraid of making a mistake or could seemingly overreact when something does not go their way in school. Most of these behaviors can closely resemble ADHD when, in reality, the behavior is a result of past trauma.

Children May Be Misdiagnosed with ADHD

A child who has experienced trauma can show symptoms of PTSD which may be confused for ADHD. Symptoms that both ADHD and PTSD share include anxiety, impulsiveness, difficulty sharing feelings, and difficulty talking themselves through what they need to do.5 From an early age, this can severely affect a child’s ability to succeed in school, a place they spend much of their time while growing up.

Sometimes, children who have a history of trauma or abuse will provoke teachers and other adults at school. According to the Child Mind Institute, this is a way for children to get attention from adults. “Negative attention is fast, predictable, and efficient,” Dr. Rappaport says. “We need to make positive attention as fast, predictable, and efficient”.

Impacts on Adulthood from Childhood Trauma

Childhood trauma can impact a person, both mentally and physically. Childhood is a time of mental and physical development. Childhood trauma can impact physical health throughout a lifetime. For example, when a child is exposed to extreme stress in their life, they tend to have a strong stress response. This strong stress response may include rapid heart rate, hyperventilating (breathing very fast), or panic attacks.6 As a result, people may perceive an adult who has experienced childhood trauma as someone who “overreacts” or is very dramatic.6 They could also respond the opposite way and appear very closed off and detached from their emotions. The stress of childhood trauma can also cause inflammation in the body. Additionally, a child who has experienced neglect or abuse may not be able to receive needed healthcare from an early age. As a result, they are more likely to have some of the following medical problems:



Chronic pain

Heart Disease

Lack of physical activity

People who suffer from childhood trauma are also more likely to turn to unhealthy habits such as substance abuse and smoking. They are more likely to die an early death when compared to those who did not experience childhood trauma.6 The estimated lifetime costs per victim of child abuse is $210,012. This includes costs related to additional healthcare needs, criminal justice costs, and special education.

Get Help Now (949) 763-3440

Has childhood trauma led to substance abuse for you or someone you love? Asana Recovery can help heal your body and mind.

Domestic Abuse

An estimated 15 million children in the United States live in a setting where domestic violence occurred.

Children who witness domestic abuse or who are victims of domestic abuse are at risk for several different kinds of physical and mental health concerns. According to, children who witness physical violence between parents are also at greater risk of acting violently in their relationships. If a boy grows up seeing his mother abused, he is ten times more likely to abuse his female partner when he grows up. Girls who witness their mother being abused are six times more likely to be sexually abused when they grow up compared to their peers. For this reason, it is important to provide children support at an early age to help break the cycle of domestic violence and abuse.

Researchers have identified both short and long-term effects of domestic abuse on a young person. These include:

Preschool Children

Preschool children may start to act much younger than they are because they are regressing to behaviors when they felt “safe” before the domestic abuse started. Examples of these behaviors include wetting the bed, crying more frequently, or sucking their thumb. Preschool children who witness domestic violence may also have difficulty sleeping, develop a stutter, or experience severe separation anxiety.

School-age Children

Children this age may start to have a lot of complaints that they feel ill all the time. They will often blame themselves for what is happening and convince themselves that everything is their fault.


Teenagers will often have issues with violence and engage in risky behaviors, such as using drugs, when they live in a household where domestic abuse occurs may also may suffer from depression.

Recovering from Domestic Violence

While growing up and witnessing domestic violence can change a child in many ways, recovery is possible. A child must learn to deal with their emotions in a healthy way without violence or self-blaming thoughts.5 Establishing a safe place with an adult support system can help. Professional counseling and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may be especially helpful. This approach can help the child learn healthier ways to deal with stress.

Sexual Abuse

According to the nonprofit organization Darkness to Light, an estimated 1 in 10 children experience sexual abuse before the age of 16.7 It is important to understand that there are a variety of behaviors that researchers consider child sexual abuse. It is also important to realize that a child may not even know they are being sexually abused.

Examples of sexual abuse include:

Touching Behaviors

When another person touches a child to stimulate the child or themselves sexually

Non-Touching Behaviors

When another person tries to look at a child while they are naked, show them pornographic materials, or touches themselves in front of a child

Child sexual abuse knows no gender, financial status, or race. Most of the time, children know their abusers. According to Darkness to Light, an estimated 60 percent of children are abused by a trusted person in their family.7

Get Help Now (949) 763-3440

Has childhood trauma led to substance abuse for you or someone you love? Asana Recovery can help heal your body and mind.

Sexual Abuse Leads to Drugs and Alcohol Abuse

Sexual abuse can dramatically impact a person’s life. An estimated 70 to 80 percent of people who have survived sexual abuse report excessive drug and alcohol use later in life.7 They also are more likely to attempt suicide and have suicidal thoughts.

The longer a sexual abuse victim is allowed to go without treatment, the greater the potential damage to their physical and emotional health. Seeking treatment is vital to helping a person process their emotions and understand how their abuse was not their fault.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy to Heal Sexual Abuse

One of the most common approaches to treating those who are victims of sexual abuse is cognitive-behavioral therapy which focuses on helping them realize they are not at fault for their abuse. This therapy type also helps them to understand better why it was wrong for the person to do what they did and start to realize how they can have healthy relationships with other people.

Risk Reduction for Treating Sexual Abuse

Another approach is called risk reduction through family therapy. This approach involves the participation of family members, such as parents or caregivers. It involves education on the effects of sexual abuse and how a person can avoid negative coping activities, like drinking or using drugs.

Physical Abuse

In a study of 2,800 middle-aged adults, 10.6 percent of male participants and 12.1 percent of female participants reported a history of childhood physical abuse, according to an article in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect.8 Sadly, childhood physical abuse is one of the most common types of abuse a young person experiences. Childhood physical abuse includes having a parent or loved one hit, slap, shove, or throw things at a young person.

Physical abuse as a child can cause a person to distrust other people and result in the development of low self-esteem. They may stop caring about their future, education, or relationships because they cannot see the possibility of a better life for themselves. They often feel out of control and anxious because they do not know when a family member or caregiver may once again become violent.

Long-Term Health Effects from Physical Abuse

Childhood physical abuse has long-term health effects.8 These include increased risks for:


Chronic pain syndrome



Irritable bowel syndrome

Post-traumatic stress disorder

According to the journal article, those who experience childhood physical abuse report having overall physical and mental health that is worse than 90 percent of their peers.8

Recovering from the Effects of Physical Abuse

The first step to treating physical abuse is to remove the child from the abusive situation and into a place where they can feel safe and protected. Therapists may then start to work with the child using cognitive behavioral therapy to help them understand that the abuse was not their fault. If parents were not the abusers, a therapist might use an approach called parent-child interaction therapy.8 This approach involves teaching parents how to best help and speak to a child after they have undergone some form of physical abuse.

Emotional Abuse

An estimated 55,196 children in the United States were victims of childhood emotional abuse in 2008, according to the non-profit organization Prevent Child Abuse America.9 There are many forms of emotional abuse that a child may experience when they are younger. These include:


A parent or caregiver may refuse to let a child interact with other people (especially people their age). This affects the child’s ability to form outside friendships and makes them feel alone and dependent on one or two people. 


A caregiver does not treat a child well and makes the child feel like they are not worthy of love, attention, praise, or comfort. 


Assaults are not always physical. Instead, a person can experience verbal assaults, where an adult or caregiver makes threats, calls a child names, or puts them down frequently. Hearing these from an authority figure can dramatically impact a child’s self-esteem.


An adult bullies or frightens a child so much the child starts to see the world as only mean and hostile.


An adult places excessive and unreasonable pressure on a child to perform in ways that are impossible to achieve.

Emotional Abuse and Physical Abuse

Unfortunately, many children may experience emotional abuse along with physical abuse, domestic violence, or sexual abuse. This only increases the negative effects on a child. Families who are experiencing financial problems, mental health issues, substance abuse addiction, and domestic abuse are more likely to have a child who experienced emotional abuse.

Children who experience emotional abuse often act younger than their age. They are unable to control their emotions well, and people may always think they are having “outbursts” of anger or sadness. They often appear to have low self-esteem and lack confidence.

Long-term Effects of Emotional Abuse

According to Prevent Child Abuse America, young people who experience emotional abuse are at risk for effects such as:



Low self-esteem

Troubled relationships

The effects of child emotional abuse cost an estimated $33 billion for things like law enforcement services, foster care, mental health treatments, and hospitalizations.

00:00 Trauma occurs in many forms, ranging from 00:02 verbal to physical and/or sexual. Whether 00:05 you personally experienced abuse or have witnessed it, 00:08 we want you to know that it’s not your fault 00:11 nor are you alone. Not only is it hard to talk about 00:14 but it follows you even after it’s over. 00:17 We hope wherever you are today that you’re in a safer place. 00:21 Our hearts go out to anyone who’s been a victim of 00:24 childhood abuse. In our description box below, 00:27 we’ve included a few hotlines, in case you need to contact 00:30 someone for help. As always, you can also reach out 00:33 in the comment box. Here are 7 ways childhood trauma 00:36 follows you into adhulthood. 00:39 1. You can’t seem to remember much of your younger 00:42 years at all. Do your highschool years feel like a blur? 00:45 You might find yourself drawing a blank when someone brings up 00:48 a childhhod memory and you can’t recall the same one. 00:51 People with childhood trauma may experience “flashbulb” memories in which they remember vivid moments 00:57 but not the full event. When you look back on 01:00 past, it’s made up of more black holes than 01:03 fully written chapters. 01:05 You might even feel like someone or something has 01:07 stolen your childhood, depending on the severity of the events. 01:12 2. You find yourself in toxic 01:13 relationships. If you’ve ever watched or read 01:16 the perks of being a wallflower, you’d be familiar with the quote 01:20 “we accept the love we think we deserve”. 01:23 When you grow up in a household 01:25 devoid of love and emotional support, 01:27 healthy relationships are a foreign concept 01:30 to you. In fact, many people who face childhood trauma 01:33 often adopt the fearful avoidant attachment style 01:36 where they want emotionally close relationships 01:39 but find it hard to trust or depend on 01:41 others completely. Consequently, without 01:44 knowing it, you might seek destrucitve relationships, 01:47 mistaking the mistreatment and uncertainty 01:50 for excitement. 3. Or you feel 01:53 like you don’t deserve love at all. People who 01:56 experienced abuse in their childhoods might 01:58 avoid romantic relationships all together, believing they can’t be loved by others. 02:03 This is known as the anxious preoccupied attachment 02:06 where the individual wants 02:08 to establish emotional intimacy with others 02:11 but often fears rejection. As a result, 02:14 vulnerability is usually avoided when 02:16 they’ve only been hurt by people they once trusted. 02:19 This kind of trauma doesn’t just ache, 02:22 it ruins you. 02:25 4. You develop passive-aggressiveness. 02:28 Did you grow up in a household with anger all the time? It can be so 02:31 scarring that you might even grow fearful of 02:34 this emotion. You learned at a young age that 02:37 none of your emotional needs are important. So you’ve only 02:40 resorted to brewing or suppressing them. 02:43 As you reach adulthood, you’ll continue to exercise 02:46 passive-aggressive behavior because 02:48 staright-forward communication was avoided when you were a child. 02:52 5. Negative self-talk is amplified. 02:55 Childhood trauma gets into victims 02:57 heads and makes them believe they won’t ever be good enough. 03:01 It’s not something they just can snap out of or fix 03:04 with positivity. It’s scary and real 03:07 how convincing their parents might have been when their 03:09 words and actions cut them deep. 03:12 6. You ride an emotional rollercoaster. 03:15 You might either feel too much or not 03:18 enough at all. Trauma can cause a disruption 03:21 in your emotional well-being. Signs include trouble 03:24 making decisions, impulsive behavior 03:27 and random outbursts of anger 03:29 or frustation. 03:32 7. You don’t know who you are. 03:35 Identity is difficult but it seems more impossible to 03:38 grasp or pin down when you face childhood trauma. 03:41 It’s slippery like a fish and the more 03:43 you try to see yourself, the less you begin to 03:46 recognize who you thought you were. 03:48 Have you or anyone you know experienced 03:51 any of these symptoms? Please share 03:53 your thoughts with us below. We’re an open minded 03:56 team and we will never judge you for your stories. 03:59 In fact, we often find them inspiring. 04:02 Also, don’t forget to subscribe to our channel 04:04 for more helpful tips and share this video with others. 04:07 Thanks so much for watching! ♥

Helping Children Deal with Trauma

According to the American Psychological Association, most children eventually return to their normal selves after a traumatic event.1 However, some children have more severe symptoms that continue throughout their lives. Unfortunately, many children who need more care do not get it. This is especially true for those who are in ethnic and racial minority groups.

While doctors have done extensive research on treating trauma in adults, there is not as much research about how to most effectively treat trauma in children. One of the most common approaches therapists use is cognitive-behavioral therapy.1 According to the American Psychological Association, CBT helps reduce some of the effects of childhood trauma. This includes PTSD, anxiety, depression, and behavioral problems.

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How CBT Can Help

For children who have gone through trauma, CBT helps a child recognize that some of the thoughts they have related to their trauma are not accurate. For example, if a child blames themselves for the reason they went through the trauma, a therapist would then help a child understand (as much as is appropriate) about the trauma and how the event was not their fault. This therapy approach also helps a child learn how to deal with the emotions they have related to the trauma they have experienced.

How Caregivers Can Help

If a child has experienced a traumatic event, there are some ways that caregivers and adults in their lives (such as a teacher) can help them start to overcome their trauma.3

Examples of ways a caregiver can help a child after trauma includes some of the following steps:

Consistently emphasize and explain that a child is not responsible for what happened to them. One saying a child can repeat is "I am a good person who had a bad thing happen."

It can take a child time to recover and fully deal with what happened to them.

Seek professional help whenever possible. Talking to a child's teachers or pediatrician may help you find the right therapist or support group that could help a child.

Caregivers can also work with a child to return to as normal a routine as possible. Routines can give a child a sense of safety. Examples of these activities include:

  • Eating at regular mealtimes
  • Going back to school
  • Going to bed at a regular and consistent time
  • Playing in safe environments and areas
  • Returning to a regular schedule of leisure activities

In addition to caring for the child themselves, people can also educate their family members about trauma. The more those who interact with children (like teachers, ministers, parents, and community leaders) educate themselves on trauma, the more likely they are to recognize when a child is going through something and needs help.

There is no “normal” time for a child to recover from trauma. Some children may find after months of counseling that they can feel more like themselves. For others, this process may take years. But continuing to receive help and support from loved ones and medical professionals can help.

Treating Addiction

While it is difficult for any person to seek substance abuse treatment, it can be especially hard for young people. According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, most young people who seek treatment are brought against their will, often because a parent, teachers, or the court system is making them.4

Adults who are past victims of trauma and now struggle with substance abuse may also have difficulty in gaining access to care. This is because they often need comprehensive services that address both the mental health and addiction concerns. It’s understood that a person who has a history of trauma and substance abuse should receive treatment for both concerns at the same time. Unfortunately, some trauma treatment programs will not admit a person who is still abusing a particular substance.


Ideally, when a person seeks treatment for substance abuse with a history of childhood trauma, they will have services that can address both conditions. This is important because if a person has PTSD, they could potentially experience strong flashbacks as they go through the detox process.

Detoxing is when a person stops using drugs or alcohol and substances are removed from the body.. Ideally, a person with a history of childhood trauma will detox in a professional treatment facility. There are several different approaches to detox treatment. This may include:

Cold Turkey

Where a person stops using a substance completely.

Medical Detoxification

Where a person may take medicines that can reduce the effects of detoxification. 

(Those who are addicted to prescription pain medications, such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, or morphine or those addicted to heroin, may opt for this approach.)

Examples include taking methadone or Suboxone to reduce withdrawals and cravings.

Tapering Program

Where a person works with a doctor to take smaller and smaller doses of medicine until they can completely stop taking a medication altogether. 

Detox is an important part of treating a substance use disorder, but it does not mean that a person is done with their addiction treatment. Instead, a person should continue to participate in therapies that help them better deal with past traumas as well as prevent drug or alcohol abuse relapse.

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Rehab and Behavioral Therapy

Following the detox process, a person should continue receiving therapy or participate in support groups. Drug treatment experts call this outpatient behavioral treatment. There are a variety of approaches a therapist may use to help treat a person who has struggled with substance abuse and trauma.2 These include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

This therapy involves helping a person recognize how their thinking is contributing to their addiction and other sources of problems in their lives.

Motivational Incentives

This approach provides incentives for a person to stay sober or engage in behaviors that keep a person feeling well.

Multidimensional Family Therapy

This therapy approach is helpful for young people who struggle with drug abuse. It involves having families participating in therapy so they can better support their loved one who is struggling.

Motivational Interviewing

This therapy approach involves helping a person find their motivations for staying sober. Some people believe if a person is invested in their sobriety, they are more likely to stick with it.

Inpatient Treatment

Sometimes, a person may require inpatient treatment or choose to participate in a residential treatment program. These are programs where a person may stay at a home, apartment, or another facility where the people are also in recovery and are committed.

Group Therapy and 12-Step Programs

Some people may also find they benefit from participating in group therapies or support and recovery groups. Examples include Alcoholics Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous. These groups are volunteer-led and can provide a place for a person to share their struggles and continue in their sobriety. Some people may participate in these treatment types for many years. 

Bottom Line about Childhood Trauma

Childhood trauma is not always preventable. Sometimes, a person will witness or be a victim of trauma they have absolutely no control over. When this occurs to a young person, they must understand that what happened to them was not their fault and that it does not make them a bad person.

Parents, loved ones, and educators must also recognize the impacts of trauma on a young person. Instead of automatically thinking the person has a condition like ADHD or other disorders, they should explore some of the possible reasons why a person continues to act a certain way. It is quite possible that for some young people, trauma is the underlying cause.

Treatments are available for those who experience trauma as well as those who struggle with trauma and substance abuse. Fortunately, young people are very resilient. With the right help and support, they can recover and ideally live happier lives.


  1. Children and Trauma: Update for Mental Health Professionals. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  2. NIDA. (2019, January 17). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction. Retrieved from on 2019, December 24.
  3. Garrett Ducker. (2015, June 8). Recognizing and Treating Child Traumatic Stress. Retrieved from
  4. National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Making the Connection: Trauma and Substance Abuse. Retreived from
  5. Domestic violence and children. (2019, April 2). Retrieved from
  6. Peterson, S. (2018, June 11). Effects. Retrieved from
  8. Springer, K. W., Sheridan, J., Kuo, D., & Carnes, M. (2007). Long-term physical and mental health consequences of childhood physical abuse: results from a largepopulation-based sample of men and women. Child abuse & neglect, 31(5), 517–530. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2007.01.003
  9. Child Emotional Abuse. (n.d.). Retrieved from