Discussing the link between trauma and addiction

Jesse Heffernan during 'Heroin Highway' lecture on March 13, 2018 (WLUK/Mike Moon)

GRAND CHUTE (WLUK) -- Experts say childhood trauma can have a strong link to addiction later in life.

As a child, Jesse Heffernan says he suffered abuse.

"There was a lot of things that happened at a young age that I just wasn't able to process, right? Things definitely out of my control," he told FOX 11 News.

Heffernan said that trauma was part of the reason he developed a serious addiction later in life. He is now 17 years sober and shared his story during a Heroin Highway Lecture Tuesday.

"And so, for me, substance abuse was a self-medication, dealing with mental health and trauma issues," Heffernan explained.

Bev Kelley-Miller, who is behind the lecture series, lost her daughter Megan to a heroin overdose. She told us her daughter also faced trauma, a sexual assault, as a child.

"So there really is a high correlation between them and substance abuse," explained Kelley-Miller.

According to the CDC, Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, like abuse, do increase a person's likelihood of developing addictions down the road.

"Their rates for heroin use, cocaine use are significantly higher than for those that don't have that," said Heffernan.

Kelley-Miller and Heffernan told FOX 11 to combat this problem is to address childhood trauma head on.

"A lot of it's hidden. So if we can openly talk about it and get it out in the open it's less likely to make that impact," explained Kelley-Miller.

"We're trying to develop a community and a culture where people can talk about them and heal from them and then find their own pathway of recovery," added Heffernan.

According to Heffernan, the state is actually taking steps to address ACEs.

"The governor's wife has started a new initiative around trauma-informed care within the state as well and our state's actually been applauded for some of the things that we're doing," he told us.

But, he said, this is only the beginning.

The 4th in the series of seven Heroin Highway lectures will be at Fox Valley Tech April 12th.

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