Skip to main content
State of Wisconsin flag

Official website of the State of Wisconsin

Dot gov

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.


Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock () or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Childhood Experiences and Health: Substance Use and Adversity

What does early adversity have to do with substance use? A lot. People often use substances to cope with stress. Trauma also changes the brain. These changes impact behavior, including the use of substances. 

Substance use associated with early adversity 

Early adversity often inhibits our ability to deal with negative emotions in a healthy way. Unfortunately, this can lead to unhealthy behaviors in an effort to cope. Here are just a few examples: 

  • Early initiation of alcohol use 
  • Higher risk of substance use disorder 
  • Lifelong tobacco use 

How early adversity impacts the risks of substance use 

ACEs have a significant impact on our risk for substance use. Below are just a few.

Cigarette smoking is a high-risk behavior associated with heart disease, COPD, certain cancers, and other negative health outcomes. In Wisconsin, individuals with four or more ACEs are three times more likely to smoke cigarettes than those with an ACEs score of zero. 

Estimated percent of Wisconsin adults who smoke, 2017-2020

ACEs are associated with greater drug-related risks among opioid users, with higher ACE scores associated with earlier age of initial use, the likelihood of recent injection drug use, and the likelihood of experiencing an overdose. 

Prescribed opioid pain reliever use in the past year by number of ACEs, 2017

Take action

There are many steps that people can take to prevent and buffer the effects of early adversity.

Discuss substance use

Two adults sitting and talking

Learn how open and honest conversations can help make an impact on substance use in Wisconsin.

Prevent underage drinking

Two people talking inside

Learn why talking with kids starting at age 8 about the dangers of alcohol use before age 21 can make a difference. 


Talk to someone

Close up of hands using a cellphone

Learn about helplines, hotlines, and text services that provide support for all types of issues.

Support systems change

Two people kayaking on a river

Learn how to be part of efforts to improve health in every Wisconsin community.

Last revised January 1, 2023