Childhood Adversity, Substance Misuse and Young People's Mental Health

We’re calling on mental health commissioners to take action when it comes to childhood adversity, substance use and mental health.

Why it matters

Our briefing, Childhood Adversity, Substance Misuse and Young People’s Mental Health, created in partnership with Addaction, is calling on mental health commissioners and providers to be aware that young people may misuse substances as the result of trauma.

We want trauma to be identified and addressed by support services, rather than young people becoming re-traumatised or incorrectly labelled.

Our findings

  • Substance misuse among young people can be a sign that young people are ‘self-medicating’ as a way of coping with trauma.
  • Children who have experienced 4 or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) – like abuse, neglect or domestic violence – are twice as likely to binge drink and 11 times more likely to use crack cocaine or heroin. Professionals working with children who are misusing substances should routinely explore possible connections with childhood adversity and poor mental health.
  • Today, over 200,000 children in England live with at least one parent, carer or adult who is alcohol dependent. These families need targeted support to promote recovery, and to reduce the likelihood of those children being exposed to trauma.

Our recommendations

We’re making recommendations to mental health commissioners and providers, calling on them to:

  1. Embed psychoeducation into the local universal education offer
  2. Introduce routine enquiry within urgent and emergency care, and specialist drug and alcohol services
  3. Invest in early intervention models
  4. Build targeted parental and whole family support models
We know that children who have had a difficult start in life are far more likely to develop long-term mental health problems, and drugs and alcohol misuse may often play a role in this. That’s why it’s crucial that commissioners invest in early intervention to ensure that the children most at risk get the right support quickly.
Dr Marc Bush - Chief Policy Adviser at YoungMinds

More on adversity

This is the first in a series of briefings that YoungMinds is producing about the links between childhood adversity and mental health. For more information read our Beyond Adversity report. 

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