Trauma experienced in childhood has a special ability to wound, especially when it includes emotional, physical or sexual abuse or neglect. The fallout echoes through the years and causes negative consequences, such as higher risks of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, obesity, behavioral problems, and health problems such as heart disease. One study that followed hundreds of adolescents over time found that 80% of individuals who had been abused as children met the criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder at age 21.

A troubled childhood can also lead a person to alcohol and drug use as a way to numb the pain or, conversely, to feel something. Studies estimate that up to two-thirds of patients in substance use treatment have childhood histories of sexual, emotional, or physical abuse. There is much to overcome with a troubled childhood, but help is available, and a thorough understanding of what hinders healing can aid the recovery process.

Here are 8 primary reasons why freedom from childhood trauma is difficult:


  • The traumatized person may be slow to realize the source of their pain.Children have no frame of reference when traumatic experiences occur, so they come to see their reality as normal, especially if their caregivers are the source of their distress. Often, it is only much later—when exposed to healthier families or when raising children of their own—that they see how damaging their childhood was. Unfortunately, the longer a person waits to get help, the tougher it becomes to heal. (If you’ve experienced childhood trauma and wonder where you fall on the spectrum, a test provided as part of the Adverse Childhood Experiences study can provide insight as well as gauge your risk of developing related health problems.)
  • Co-occurring issues can mask the true problem. Those who use drugs or alcohol to deal with the pain of childhood trauma may become so focused on dealing with their addiction—what is essentially a symptom of the trauma—that they never discover its source. Unless that’s done, however, they are likely to keep cycling in and out of recovery. There’s another complication to trauma-based addiction: Fellow addicts sometimes provide the sense of family missing from a person’s life.

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8 Reasons It’s So Hard to Overcome a Tough Childhood