DDN March 2021 March 2021 | Page 6


The links between childhood trauma and problematic adult substance use – though huge – are still not being properly addressed . If we ’ re finally going to tackle the drug deaths crisis , they need to be . DDN reports


long have we known that drugs are connected to childhood trauma ? Probably since the seventies ,’ says child psychologist and research scientist Suzanne Zeedyk . ‘ It just hasn ’ t filtered into our wider consciousness or our systems .’
The extensive and ongoing adverse childhood experiences ( ACE ) study identified that people who experienced four or more types of ACE – including physical or emotional neglect ; physical , emotional or sexual abuse , or exposure to domestic violence – are seven times more likely to be alcohol-dependent , and ten times more likely to be involved in injecting drug use . But while childhood trauma is clearly a major factor in people going on to develop substance problems in adulthood – quite possibly the biggest – it ’ s still not discussed as widely as it should be .
This is particularly the case with child sexual abuse . A report by the charity One in Four found that many drug services were still failing to ‘ make the link ’ between child sexual abuse and adult substance
problems ( DDN , May 2019 , page 10 ), something that is perhaps surprising in a sector that is so aware of the impact of stigma and its role in deterring people from seeking help . Stigma is clearly a huge issue for survivors of abuse – it ’ s an extremely difficult thing to disclose , and many people never do . Add problem substance use to that , and you have stigma compounded on stigma .
BLAME AND JUDGEMENT ‘ In general in our society we just don ’ t understand that childhood trauma stays with you , that it stays in the body ,’ says Zeedyk , who recently hosted the online Trauma at the heart of Scotland ’ s drug deaths event . ‘ It produces biological change that you need help with later on because your stress system is made more fragile . If children have to deal with too much emotional distress at a time when they don ’ t have a stress system that can cope it creates damage . Then when you get a bit older and face distress you need external help , and that becomes your go-to place . But the other thing is we have a society that very quickly turns to blame and judgment . We make it about
individual choices – that ’ s kind of a go-to response for us .’
The Scottish Government does seem , however belatedly , to be determined to properly address the country ’ s ongoing drug-related deaths crisis , appointing a new minister and pledging £ 250m over the next five years ( DDN , February , page 4 ). However , it ’ s ‘ grassroots voices that have helped to make that happen ,’ she believes – ‘ being bolshy and making themselves unpopular .’
So how could that money best be spent ? ‘ If you ’ re far removed from the problem you don ’ t understand the urgency , so you need the voices of lived experience ,’ she states . ‘ They need a genuine seat at the table , so one way I ’ d like to see that money used is to have more voices of lived experience at the epicentre of strategy and solution-making . Drugs take away the angst , drugs give you peace , drugs are a way of self-comforting , so I would like to see that money going into a trauma-informed response to the problem and exploring what that looks like .’
CREATIVE THINKING Alongside more money for organizations led by lived


‘ The drugs system wasn ’ t set up to think “ I ’ m going to need to deal with child sexual abuse ” so we need to shift that and it won ’ t happen naturally , it will only happen because of leadership ... and if people in positions of leadership can ’ t do that then the grassroots will need to hold them to account .’
Vladimir Razgulyaev / Dreamstime . com