It’s a fact of life that our childhood experiences shape who we are as adults. The language we learned, the neighborhood we lived in, the schools we attended, our family structure and countless other variables factor into our personalities, preferences and experiences.

Many of our childhood experiences were never in our control either. It can be difficult to grapple with the events that happened to us and process their long-term effects. For those who have experienced childhood trauma, it can be a lifelong process to heal from old wounds and manage the symptoms.

In this article, we’ll explore the effects of childhood trauma and how they commonly manifest in adulthood.

Defining trauma

According to the American Psychological Association, trauma is a person’s emotional response to a terrible event, such as violence, a car accident, a natural disaster or sexual assault. Trauma responses include immediate reactions as well as their long-term implications on psychosocial behavior.

Many people experience traumatic events without actually developing trauma. There are numerous reasons that contribute to unique responses (such as biological predispositions and age at the time of the event), but much is still unknown about why individuals react in different ways.

When individuals struggle to recover emotionally from the traumatic event and symptoms of distress linger long after, a person may be facing post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Thankfully, trauma and its effects can be addressed and individuals who seek treatment are able to find healing and successful ways to manage symptoms.

Childhood trauma in adults

Sadly, many children who experience trauma do not have the awareness or resources to address the distress that follows. Kids who live through disastrous and terrible events may have never even heard of trauma. It’s often not until adulthood that these individuals recognize the reality of their upbringing and are able to connect their behavior to events from the past.

Childhood trauma in adults often manifests in surprising ways. The behaviors that people develop in response to trauma are often self-defense tactics against potential future damage and may be so engrained they have become unconscious.

Working with a therapist, journaling or self-reflection can help illuminate some of these trauma responses. Here are a few ways to spot evidence of childhood trauma in adults:

Insecure or avoidant attachment

The attachment style theory has become a popularized framework to understand relationships. Developed by psychologist John Bowlby in the 1950s and 60s, attachment styles categorize the differences and disparities in connectedness that are established in infancy and young childhood.

Those who experienced neglect or emotionally absent caregivers are more likely to develop insecure or avoidant attachment styles. Childhood experiences thus lay the groundwork for relationships throughout life, and a rough start can indicate struggles later on.

Insecure or avoidant attachment styles can manifest in challenges in getting close to others, struggling with fear of abandonment and taking on roles in a relationship that are inappropriate.


Anxiety is among the most common effects of childhood trauma. Often, it’s difficult to distinguish as stemming from childhood experiences, though, as many people struggle with anxiety disorders for various reasons. While there are surely a plethora of potential origins for feelings of unease, for many people anxiety is a behavior that originates in early life.

Health issues

The effects of childhood trauma affect a person emotionally, mentally and physically. Those who have experienced childhood trauma are more likely to suffer from health issues including the following.

  • increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases
  • increased risk of accidental injury
  • increased child and maternal health concerns
  • increased risk of chronic conditions like cancer, heart disease and diabetes
  • more likely to experience chronic stress
  • poor immune response
  • increased risk of developing a mental health disorder

As an adult, trauma can manifest itself in many ways. Struggling with health conditions may be a sign of something deeper underlying your concerns.


Childhood trauma is often calculated by a measure called ACEs, or Adverse Childhood Experiences. A test determines the number of ACEs lived through between the ages 0-and-17 in order to estimate potential outcomes for at-risk individuals. One of these risks is future involvement with substance abuse.

Sadly, there is a high correlation between addiction and childhood trauma. In fact, a study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that those who scored a five or higher on the ACEs test were seven-to-ten times more likely to self-report illicit drug use than their counterparts who scored lower than a five on the ACEs test.

Addiction and childhood trauma are often overlooked links. For those who struggle with substance use, processing past experiences may be a necessary component to successful long-term substance use treatment and recovery. Additionally, those who are aware that they have experienced childhood trauma may want to take preventive measures against potential substance use.

Getting treatment for childhood trauma

The effects of childhood trauma are far-reaching and long-lasting. Too often childhood trauma is bottled up and manifests later in adulthood as a severe mental health condition, like anxiety, depression or PTSD.

Thankfully, trauma is treatable and there are various methods to intervene and address trauma. Here’s how loved ones and professionals can reduce the negative effects of childhood trauma in adulthood.

  • Understand the symptoms of trauma
  • Reduce stigma around treatment
  • Therapy or counseling
  • Prescribed antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications
  • Involvement in pro-social activities
  • Strengthening a support system of friends, family and treatment providers
  • Holistic therapies like art therapy, mindfulness, nature therapy, etc
  • A self-care routine
  • Reinforced coping skills

Healing from childhood trauma in adulthood isn’t easy, but it is possible. The right treatment can help you process the past, find healing and create new meaning in your life.

Find the care you deserve with Silvermist Recovery. Get mental health treatment for trauma and personalized intervention for co-occurring substance abuse issues. This is the clean slate you’re looking for— don’t hesitate to contact us today.