Secondhand Drinking IS Childhood Trauma

Secondhand Drinking IS Childhood Trauma

There’s been a great deal of new research about the role childhood trauma plays in changing the neural network wiring of a child’s developing brain. I think Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris does one of the best jobs explaining (in 15 minutes!), “Childhood trauma isn’t something you just get over as you grow up … the repeated stress of abuse, neglect and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain.” I urge you to watch her TED Talk linked below:

Now to tie this to my article title,

Secondhand Drinking Is Childhood Trauma

Childhood trauma includes verbal, physical, emotional abuse; physical abuse of a mother; untreated parental substance misuse/addiction; neglect; untreated parental mental illness to name a few examples. Secondhand Drinking (and Secondhand Drugging) refers to the negative impacts of a person’s drinking behaviors on others. Drinking behaviors include: verbal, physical, emotional abuse; neglect; domestic violence while under the influence; and driving while impaired to name a few examples. You see the connection. Secondhand drinking IS childhood trauma.

And why is this so important to understand?

The Presence of Childhood Trauma Sets the Stage for the Development / Presence of Key Risk Factors for Developing Addiction

People are not born alcoholics (or drug addicts). Addiction is now medically understood to be a chronic relapsing brain disease. It takes substance misuse chemically and structurally changing a person’s brain, which in turn makes that brain more susceptible to any of the five key risk factors. By the same token, the presence of any of the five key risk factors makes a person’s brain more susceptible to misusing substances once substance use begins.

secondhand drinking IS childhood trauma

One in four children lives in a home with a parent(s) who abuse alcohol or other drugs. NACoA

The five key risk factors for developing addiction include: childhood trauma, social environment, mental illness, early use and genetics. For details on these five key risk factors, visit NIDA, NIAAA, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and HBO’s, The Addiction Project > “Why Do Some People Become Addicted?

A child experiencing secondhand drinking | secondhand drugging is put in the position of developing / experiencing / having three of these five key risk factors: childhood trauma, social environment, and genetics. That child’s SHD experiences might lead to a fourth risk factor, mental illness, such as anxiety or depression. Thus for that child, four of five may be present before s/he even has their first drink or drug use, which carries the potential for the fifth key risk factor, early use.

Understanding Childhood Trauma and What You Can Do to Prevent | Counter Its Impacts

Please find the following resources (just a few of those now available), in addition to the information shared by Dr. Burke Harris in her TED Talk above:

We Are Teachers Staff article, “10 Things About Childhood Trauma Every Teacher [and Every PERSON] Needs to Know,”

“With trauma, the symptoms go largely unrecognized because it shows up looking like other problems: frustration, acting out, difficulty concentrating, following directions or working in a group. Often students are misdiagnosed with anxiety, behavioral disorders or attention disorders, rather than understanding the trauma that’s driving those symptoms and reactions.” WeAreTeachersStaff  

Jane Stevens, founder of ACEs Too High, article, “Got Your ACE Score? (and at the end, What’s Your Resilience Score?,”

“There are 10 types of childhood trauma measured in the ACE Study. Five are personal — physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect. Five are related to other family members: a parent who’s an alcoholic, a mother who’s a victim of domestic violence, a family member in jail, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, and the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment. Each type of trauma counts as one. So a person who’s been physically abused, with one alcoholic parent, and a mother who was beaten up has an ACE score of three.” Jane Stevens ACEs Too High

Christine Cissy White’s article, “Boston’s architect of community well-being: Pediatrician Renée Boynton-Jarrett,”

“This new science of human development includes the epidemiology of childhood adversity, how toxic stress from childhood trauma can damage the structure and function of a child’s developing brain, how toxic stress embeds in a person’s biology to emerge decades later as disease and violence, how the effects of toxic stress can be passed from parent to child, and how resilience research is showing how the brain is plastic and the body wants to heal.” Christie Cissy White

Melinda Clemmons, “Communities Come Together to ‘Change Minds’ About Childhood Trauma,”

“Accordingly, the name ‘Changing Minds’ refers to the campaign’s intent to change attitudes and beliefs as well as the notion that brains can change, and that children who have been traumatized can heal.” Melinda Clemmons

Preventing Secondhand Drinking | Secondhand Drugging to Help Prevent | Raise Awareness About Childhood Trauma…

… and thus preventing the influence of these five key risk factors for developing addiction. Check out my February 23, 2013 article, “Secondhand Drinking Prevention.”

And if you are interested in the concept of secondhand drinking, check out the series I wrote for Alcohol Awareness Month, April 2014:


Lisa Frederiksen

Lisa Frederiksen

Author | Speaker | Consultant | Founder at
Lisa is the author of hundreds of articles and 11 books, including "If You Loved Me, You'd Stop!," "Addiction Recovery: What Helps, What Doesn't," and "Secondhand Drinking: the Phenomenon That Affects Millions." She is a national keynote speaker with over 25 years speaking experience, consultant, and founder of She has spent more than 14 years studying 21st century brain research in order to write, speak, and consult on substance use disorders prevention, intervention and treatment; mental disorders; addiction (aka substance use disorders) as a brain disease; adolescent addiction treatment vs adult addiction treatment; effective treatment for co-occurring disorders (having both a substance use and mental disorder); secondhand drinking | drugging; help for the family; and related subjects. In 2015, she founded SHD Prevention, providing training and consulting to companies, public agencies, unions, nonprofits and other entities to address the workplace impacts of employee secondhand drinking and alcohol misuse.

6 Responses to Secondhand Drinking IS Childhood Trauma

  1. Such powerful information! I look forward to the time when early intervention and treatment for ACE changes the outcomes for our children.

  2. Lisa Neumann says:

    Wow! Dr. Nadine Burke Harris for President please. Lisa, thank you for bringing this to us. Fantastic TED talk. I’m going to be following her around forever. The one clear piece I learned was that as I recovered from my addiction my children were hugely impacted. I’m sober 12 years now, however I often feel we grew up together. (They are 16 and 13 now) Makes me wonder, makes me grateful, makes me want to continue to grow.

    This is a must share. ? Lisa Neumann, aka, Sober Identity

    • I’m with you, Lisa – she’s fantastic!! And what she’s doing at her center is phenomenal. How wonderful for you and your children – it’s terrific to hear you are all healing.

  3. Wonderful article here, Lisa. Thank you for sharing the information about early childhood trauma. It does make so much sense and hopefully the screenings will be widespread soon.

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