Early Life Adversity and Opioid Addiction

ELA Opioid Addiction

At Hemet Valley Recovery Center & Sage Retreat, we specialize in the treatment of addiction and trauma. The majority of individuals who meet the criteria for alcohol or substance use disorder experienced at least one traumatic event in their life.

Those who do not have the coping skills to manage adverse experiences often resort to mind-altering substances to ease their minds. For those who are genetically predisposed to addiction, using drugs and alcohol to cope is a sure path to developing an addiction.

In the field of mental health and addiction medicine, the topic of adverse childhood experiences or ACEs is frequently discussed. Sometimes referred to as early life adversity (ELA), ACEs can include being exposed to the following at a young age:

  • Physical Abuse
  • Emotional Abuse
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Physical or Emotional Neglect
  • Household Mental Illness or Substance Use
  • Household Domestic Violence
  • Incarcerated Household

While parental separation or divorce may appear to be less severe than abuse, such events can leave an indelible mark on a young person’s psyche. Each child will respond to trauma the best they can, but many children lack the ability to process their feelings, which can impact their life trajectory.

In 2018, a study appearing in JAMA Pediatrics delved into the effects of adverse childhood experiences. The researchers found that as young people with ACEs grow up, they are more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol, such as opioid use and misuse. The report suggests that the trend can affect one generation to the next. The authors write:

“Early life adversity is associated with leading causes of adult morbidity and mortality and effects on life opportunities. These findings highlight the importance of understanding why some individuals are at higher risk of experiencing adverse childhood experiences than others, including how this increased risk may exacerbate health inequities across the lifespan and future generations.”

Early Life Adversity and Opioid Addiction

It’s been nearly two years since the above research was published. Since that time, more research on the subject of early life adversity and opioid use disorder has been conducted. A team of researchers at the University of California – Irvine (UCI) sought to determine why people with a history of ELA are disproportionately prone to opioid addiction. Their findings appear in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

The authors of the study titled, “On the early life origins of vulnerability to opioid addiction,” examined how ELAs impact brain development and function, thus causing a higher potential for opioid use disorder, according to a UCI news release. The new research could lead to the development of predictive biomarkers and novel prevention strategies for curbing the American opioid abuse epidemic.

“We already know that genetics plays a major role in addiction vulnerability. But, this factor alone cannot account for the recent exponential rise in opioid abuse,” said Tallie Z. Baram, MD, Ph.D., the Danette Shepard Chair in Neurological Sciences at the UCI School of Medicine. “Our team was determined to find out if environmental factors, like early life adversity, were contributing.” 

There is now a direct causal link between ELA and opioid addiction vulnerability, according to the release. The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Hewitt Foundation for Biomedical Research.

Opioid Use Disorder and Trauma Treatment

At HVRC, we can help you or a loved one address the traumatic events of your past and give you the tools to lead a healthy life in recovery. Please contact us today to learn more about our Chemical Dependency Rehabilitation Hospital (CDRH) and to speak with our admissions team about treatment options. Take the first step toward a life in long-term recovery with HVRC.