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How Childhood Trauma Affects the Brain

Did you know nearly 35 million people across the United States have experienced one or more types of childhood trauma? This can include experiences like physical or psychological abuse, neglect, intense bullying, losing a loved one or witnessing a traumatic event. All of these experiences can negatively impact an individual’s brain development.

Childhood is an essential time for development, and the brain is no exception. Think back to your own childhood and try to recall an experience that left a lasting impact on your life. That experience affected your growth and development, whether you realized it or not.

In fact, the majority of development actually takes place in your formative years. This is why there is increased concern and study around how trauma affects the brain.

When it comes to childhood trauma and brain development, there’s a lot to unpack. We know that brain development has a lot to do with environmental factors. After all, research has shown that your brain reflects the tone of major events and experiences in your life as you grow.

To better understand this, we’ll explore the biological changes that can take place as a result of trauma and how these changes can affect behavior later in life.

The Relationship Between Childhood Trauma and Brain Development

By using brain imaging technology, researchers have a better understanding of how childhood trauma affects the brain. Unfortunately for trauma victims, childhood trauma can cast a shadow well into adulthood.

Both structural and functional changes have been seen in the brain as a result of trauma, including changes to the:

  • Prefrontal Cortex: Childhood trauma can cause the prefrontal cortex to be smaller. This part of the brain helps control emotion, cognition and behavior. This can lower someone’s capacity to manage their emotions and control impulses.
  • White Matter: Also known as corpus callosum, white matter is the area of the brain that transmits messages between each side of your brain. Childhood trauma can decrease the amount of white matter in the brain, making it harder for your brain to process thoughts and emotions.
  • Amygdala: While childhood trauma doesn’t affect the size of this part of brain, it causes overconnectivity. The amygdala’s job is to trigger an emotional response to stress. When overstimulated, this can cause increased stress and anxiety for someone who experienced trauma as a child.
  • Hippocampus: This area of the brain helps with social skills, memory, conflict resolution and learning. Childhood trauma reduces the volume of the hippocampus, making it harder to complete all these tasks successfully. For a victim of childhood trauma, this means having trouble socializing and managing conflicts in a healthy way.

How Do These Brain Changes Affect Behavior?

Now that you have a better idea of how trauma affects the brain, let’s get into what all these changes mean for behavior.

Since many of these areas of the brain deal with regulating stress in some way, mental health disorders are common for people who have experienced childhood trauma. From anxiety and depression to PTSD, mental health disorders can cause real issues throughout life.

Another big behavioral change that takes place is the ability to form healthy relationships. The relationship between trauma and brain development can make it harder for you to read social cues and empathize with others. Simple social interactions are seen as more complicated and frustrating to experience as a result of how childhood trauma impacted your development.

But perhaps one of the most dangerous effects of trauma and brain development is an increased risk of unhealthy coping mechanisms in adolescence. This is related to the decreased ability to manage impulse control, as mentioned above.

Luckily, for teenagers suffering from childhood trauma, teenage treatment centers like Red Mountain Colorado are able to treat dual-diagnosis disorders. There’s no doubt that given how childhood trauma affects the brain, managing the after-effects can be challenging. But finding a way to heal and let go of the trauma weighing you down is possible.

Red Mountain Colorado, Experts in Treating Trauma

At Red Mountain Colorado, our experienced team uses a wide range of innovative treatment techniques to support all the symptoms your teen is struggling with.

When it comes to your child, we know you need reassurance and for your questions to be answered. We know you need to feel that your child is safe and will get better. Let us help your family through this challenging time and empower your child to overcome their childhood trauma.

Contact us today to learn more about our programs and how your teen can get started.