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Childhood Trauma and Adult Behavior

Michael Richman MA, LPC 10/09/2017

How Childhood Trauma Effects Adult Behavior and Substance Use

It should not surprise anyone that traumatic events during our childhood have an effect on our adult lives but most people don’t realize just how much our early memories color our entire adult world. So how can we tell which early memories are driving forces in our behavior and actions that we still have in our current adult lives?

The key is to look back in your memory to the time when you were between ages 8 to 12. Virtually every client I’ve ever asked has vivid memories of some very specific event during this time period. Others can remember in great detail several events after just a short time thinking back. They can be both positive and negative but they are like they happened yesterday. These are the hard-wired memories that your brain accesses virtually every day to make decisions in your adult behavior and actions.

Trauma events in this time frame are the most significant. A death in the immediate family or close friend, a terrible accident, an inappropriate sexual encounter, parental divorce or separation, these are just a few examples that color our world for life, but it is the coping mechanisms that we develop to deal with these traumas that can be the most destructive in our adult years. Substance abuse, anxiety and depression, unsubstantiated fear, and self-harm are some of the maladaptive forms of coping strategies that our early years can produce that follow us into adulthood.

During my career, before I went into private practice, I took literally thousands of initial assessments from Substance Use Disorder patients that bore out this data. The primary question that was most telling was “Give a chronological history of your drug and alcohol use listing the earliest substance used to your current use”. In a large majority of cases (approx. 80%) the patient would describe first use at ages 10 to 14. If the client was age 45 or above, first use was most frequently alcohol, for ages 35 and below, first use was overwhelmingly marijuana. Ages 35 – 45 were an eclectic mix but all age groups claim there start of use was in the same age group of 10-14 at the same percentage rate of approx.. 80%. Cultural influences may have changed the substance involved but did not change the age of first use (although the earliest age is definitely trending down in resent times).

Victims of childhood rape and inappropriate sexual encounters during the age of 8 -12 often turn to substance use to mask their emotions and repress those traumatic memories well into their adulthood. They will most likely become functioning substance abusers, able to work and maintain some semblance of what appears to be a normal life but is in fact a front that is used to justify in the users mind that there is no problem. Often times even a traumatic result of the persons substance use, a car accident or arrest, loss of job, loss of relationships, even hospitalizations are not enough to convince those that are masking an unresolved traumatic event that they have a serious substance abuse problem.

The solution starts with bringing the trauma that’s burned into our memories to the surface and learning to cope with it in healthier, less destructive ways. This is not an overnight process and needs to be guided by a therapist who understands both substance abuse and Cognitive behavior. Starting therapy can be daunting and anxiety filled contemplation, but it is the first step to admitting to yourself that you need help. Honestly though, once you start to relieve your mind of the past you will wonder why you didn’t do this years ago. If you feel you fit into this area of concern please feel free to contact me, Michael Richman MA, LPC at New Revelation Counseling Service LLC in Ada MI. Phone# 616-888-4353 Website:

Don’t let your past dictate your future any more. Start taking action today.

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