Abused Children Are More at Risk for Teen Drug Addiction

If a child experiences abuse in their home of origin, whether that’s physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, he or she is more vulnerable to alcohol consumption during adolescence. A research study recently conducted by the University Miguel Hernandez in Elche, Spain, reveals that teens who were abused as children tended to perceive the use of alcohol or drugs as a positive experience and were not able to identify the risks associated with substance use, drug addiction or alcohol abuse.


It’s important to note, however, that the adolescent brain is still developing. Therefore, on the whole, they tend to have an impaired ability to identify risks in their behavior. For instance, the grey matter of the brain, which contains most of the brain’s neurons and is known as the thinking part of the brain, is still growing in teens. For adults, this brain development is complete. Alongside this is the still developing frontal cortex in teens, which completes its growth during ages 23-26. This part of the brain performs reasoning, planning, judgment, and impulse control. The incomplete development of the frontal cortex in teens can explain the tendency for teens to make poor decisions and their an inability to discern whether a situation is safe. On the whole, whether abused or not, teens tend to experiment with risky behavior and don’t fully recognize the consequences of their choices.


Despite this, additional research also points to the connection between childhood abuse and the presence of an addiction in adolescence and adulthood. In the year 2000, there were close to 2 million reports of child abuse to protective service agencies, meaning that over 2.7 million children were reported as being abused. Of these cases, 879,000 confirmed the presence of some form of abuse. This translates to an approximate annual rate of 12.2 children per 1,000 under the age of 18 who experience abuse.


Families in which there is substance abuse are more likely to experience abuse or are at a higher risk of abuse. Families that have members who have either a drug or alcohol abuse problem are more likely to also have a history of either physical or sexual abuse. The Child Welfare League of America (2001) recently found that substance abuse is present in 40-80 percent of families in which children are abuse victims. The study in Spain also found that of the 660 teens ages 16-18 who were interviewed, 330 consume alcohol and of these 60% were abused during childhood. This study and others have clearly made the connection between abuse of children and the presence of addiction in adolescence and later life.


It is also not a surprise to know that the patterns seen in teens and adults who have an addiction are similar to the patterns of those who have experienced childhood abuse. Examples of these patterns are:


  • Beating yourself up for what you should have done, reacting to life versus being proactive when faced with a challenge
  • Playing the role of victim or having a “poor me” attitude
  • Holding on to resentments
  • Engaging in wishful thinking and devaluing what you already have
  • Expecting the worst
  • Frequently experiencing fear or worry
  • Feeling unworthy or lacking a healthy self image
  • Perpetually pleasing others before meeting your own needs
  • Looking for life satisfaction externally such as in sexual relationships, overeating, drugs, overworking, or in other excessive behavior
  • Avoiding where you are right now by frequently thinking that the grass is greener on the other side. For example, moving out of town with the thought that it will be better there versus right where you are now.


Although the correlation between childhood abuse and drug/alcohol abuse oraddiction is not surprising, perhaps it might lead to the better understanding of patterns among families and individuals. A wider breadth of knowledge leads to enhanced treatment methods, meaningful public education, and the prevention of harm in our communities.




Asociación RUVID. (2014, June 27). Child maltreatment influences alcohol consumption in adolescents. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140627094543.htm