Compare the changes in the Smart Phone of 2007 to the Smart Phone of today, 2017. Radical, revolutionary, life-changing, who could have imagined? The superlatives to describe this comparison are endless.
Those same superlatives can be applied to the changes in our understanding of the human brain; changes that explain how ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) can cause a person to develop addiction (aka substance use disorder) and how untreated ACEs can make addiction recovery difficult.
This brain research explains:
- how the brain works, wires, develops, and maps to control everything we think, feel, say, and do
- how alcohol or other drugs, trauma, toxic stress, genetics, and environment can negatively change or influence that wiring, development, and mapping
- how addiction, aka substance use disorders, is a developmental brain disease that starts with substance misuse changing brain structure and functioning, making the brain more vulnerable to the five key risk factors for developing the disease [these risk factors include childhood trauma (adverse childhood experiences, aka ACEs), social environment, mental illness, early use, and genetics]
- how childhood trauma (adverse childhood experiences, aka ACEs) can cause toxic stress and how toxic stress can actually change a child’s brain architecture, negatively affecting their lifetime physical and emotional health
- how a person must heal their trauma (ACEs) in order to heal their brain and thereby improve their lives
- that the brain is plastic, meaning it can rewire, it can heal from the impacts of substance use disorders and trauma-related toxic stress.
Treating ACEs for Success in Addiction Recovery
As important as these brain research advances and findings are to understanding the disease of addiction and what it takes to effectively treat it is the ACEs [Adverse Childhood Experiences] Study. This study measured the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on a person’s health across a lifetime.
According to SAMHSA’s paper, “The Role of Adverse Childhood Experiences in Substance Abuse and Related Behavioral Health Problems,”
Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic experiences, including abuse, neglect and a range of household dysfunction such as witnessing domestic violence, or growing up with substance abuse, mental illness, parental discord, or crime in the home. ACEs are strongly related to development and prevalence of a wide range of health problems, including substance abuse, throughout the lifespan.
Daniel D. Sumrok, MD, FAAFP, DABAM, DFASAM, began incorporating the ACEs questionnaire in his practice after learning about the ACEs study. Dr. Sumrok is the director of the Center for Addiction Sciences at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Medicine. As reported by Jane Ellen Stevens in her article, “Addiction doc says: It’s not the drugs. It’s the ACEs – adverse childhood experiences,”
He [Dr. Sumrok] says: Addiction shouldn’t be called “addiction”. It should be called “ritualized compulsive comfort-seeking”.
He [Dr. Sumrok] says: Ritualized compulsive comfort-seeking (what traditionalists call addiction) is a normal response to the adversity experienced in childhood, just like bleeding is a normal response to being stabbed.
He [Dr. Sumrok] says: The solution to changing the illegal or unhealthy ritualized compulsive comfort-seeking behavior of opioid addiction is to address a person’s adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) individually and in group therapy; treat people with respect; provide medication assistance in the form of buprenorphine, an opioid used to treat opioid addiction; and help them find a ritualized compulsive comfort-seeking behavior that won’t kill them or put them in jail.
Click here to learn more about Dr. Sumrok’s approach to helping his patients succeed in recovery by treating their ACEs, as well as the outstanding work being done by other doctors across the country: Dr. Karen Derefinko, Dr. David Stern, and Dr. Altha Stewart.
And to get your ACEs score, click here.
For more on what it takes to effectively treat addiction, check out NIDA’s Principles of Effective Treatment.