The results suggest that adolescents with a history of childhood trauma may benefit from drug prevention efforts that specifically address traumatic memories and coping strategies, and the need for treatment programs to more directly address childhood trauma.
Researchers from several institutions analyzed data from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication–Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A), which included adolescents aged 13 to 18 years (N=9,956). They examined associations between traumatic events prior to age 11 and specific types of drug use in adolescence, adjusting for parental substance misuse. (Potentially traumatic events [PTEs] included items from the Criterion A1 assessment for PTSD in the Composite International Diagnostic Interview [CIDI].)
According to the survey, 11% of participants had experienced interpersonal violence, 18% had experienced a traumatic accident, 15% had witnessed or heard about a traumatic event happening to a loved one, and 4% reported an unspecified event. For lifetime drug use, 22% had ever used marijuana, 2% cocaine, 5% prescription drugs not for medical reasons, 3% other drugs, and 6% multiple drugs.
After controlling for demographic covariates, the researchers found that exposure to any PTE before the age of 11 was associated with higher risk for lifetime use of marijuana, cocaine, nonmedical prescription drugs, other drugs, and multiple drugs. There was evidence of a dose-response relationship between the number of PTEs experienced and marijuana, other drug, and polydrug use. The experience of interpersonal violence in childhood was consistently associated with lifetime use of all of the illicit drugs assessed, even after controlling for the confounding effect of parent substance misuse, which attenuated the effect sizes of many of the associations assessed.
“For clinicians, our results combined with other studies imply that drug treatment programs may need to more directly address childhood trauma in their therapeutic approach,” the authors wrote. “Early interventions targeting coping with trauma during this critical period of adolescence could have broad benefits to the health and well-being of adults.”
For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “NIH Seeks Input on Major Study of Adolescent Substance Use.”
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