Protecting Children a Good Step Towards Reducing Drug Addictions

United Way of Marion CountyThe following guest column was submitted by Pam Stone of United Way of Marion County
I was recently invited to help construct a strategic plan for our local Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board, and I was honored to do so. As you might imagine, much of the discussion centered on drug and alcohol addiction, treatment and recovery.  But as a former employee of United Way used to say, “Every day’s a school day,” meaning it’s not unusual to learn something new. And I did.

We spend a lot of time in Marion County talking about, reading about and worrying about drug addiction. We all want to know why it’s so bad.  I’ve heard various people blame easy access, bad parenting, inadequate numbers of law enforcement personnel and a poor economy, among other things. But I’ve heard others say that as long as there is a demand for drugs, there will always be a supply.

So, the question becomes why is there such a high demand?  We know that addiction basically provides a temporary escape from something and usually it’s pain of some sort, physical or emotional.

Researchers are beginning to question correlations between addiction and trauma. According to The Fix, a leading website on addiction and recovery, “This research confirms a whole body of literature showing that the more stressful your childhood experiences—and the more different your types of stress—the greater your odds of later life addiction. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study, which includes some 17,000 participants in California’s Kaiser Permanente insurance program, found multiple, dose-dependent relationships between severe childhood stress and all types of addictions, including overeating. Adverse childhood experiences measured included emotional, physical and sexual abuse, neglect, having a mentally ill or addicted parent, losing a parent to death or divorce, living in a house with domestic violence and having an incarcerated parent.”

Also, “Compared to a child with no ACEs, one with six or more is nearly three times more likely to be a smoker as an adult. A child with four or more is five times more likely to become an alcoholic and 60% more likely to become obese. And a boy with four or more ACEs is a whopping 46 times more likely to become an IV drug user later in life than one who has had no severe adverse childhood experiences.

“These are extraordinarily strong relationships,” says Dr. Vincent Felitti, a founder of the ACE study and the former chief of preventive medicine at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego. “You read the newspaper and the cancer scare of the week is about something that raises risk by 30%. Here, we’re talking thousands of percentage points.”

So, as we look at Marion County statistics for child abuse, divorce, domestic violence and incidence of incarcerated parents, maybe the addiction we see here does make sense. And maybe we should be investing more time and energy in figuring out how to protect our children from the traumas that seem to be so prevalent here.

Although not all addiction can be traced back to trauma, the link is increasingly and alarmingly strong enough that it seems to be a very good place for us to start.

Pamela J. Stone
Executive Director
United Way of Marion County

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