Untreated ACEs Can Make Addiction Recovery Difficult

Untreated ACEs Can Make Addiction Recovery Difficult

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.

Untreated ACEs Can Make Addiction Recovery Difficult

Untreated ACEs can lead to the development of addiction (aka Substance Use Disorders) and make addiction recovery difficult.

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.

©2017 Lisa Frederiksen

Lisa Frederiksen

Lisa Frederiksen

Author | Speaker | Consultant | Founder at BreakingTheCycles.com
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 BreakingTheCycles.com. 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.
Lisa Frederiksen

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4 Responses to Untreated ACEs Can Make Addiction Recovery Difficult

  1. Charlaine says:

    Thanks for the great visual of the effects of adverse childhood experiences and the impact on the development of and recovery from substance misuse/abuse/addiction.

  2. Glen Adams says:

    I use the ACE questionnaire in my psychoeducational classes with clients during their inpatient portion of treatment. Very effective on linking this to addiction and alleviating some of the guilt and shame. As always, a great article Lisa! I have always admired the work you do!!


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