Childhood abuse can lead to long-term brain damage including greater vulnerability to drug addiction, a new study at the Yale University has found.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Yale School of Medicine, found that people abused during childhood had lower brain volumes in regions associated with emotion, learning, and memory. These changes impaired the victims' ability to break drug addiction.

What's worse is that the addicts are not only at a higher risk of relapse, but also suffer from severe relapses than other people in the general population.

The study was based on data from 175 substance-abuse patients and healthy controls. All the participants underwent brain scanning.

According to the researchers, both groups had individuals who had been abused as children. Brain scans showed that abused people had reduced brain volume in hippocampal complex, which is associated with memory and emotion processing. Substance abusers with these brain changes were more vulnerable to long-term addiction and severe relapses.

"We can begin to think about ways to address the underlying pathology in substance abuse and explore use of exercise and some medications to stimulate new growth and connections in brain cells in these specific brain regions to help restore trauma-related brain atrophy," said Rajita Sinha, the Foundations Fund Professor of Psychiatry, director of the Yale Stress Center and senior author of the study.

A recent study had shown that physically abused women had a higher risk of developing thyroid -related problems. Previous research had found that abuse during childhood could lead to several chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer.  The current study shows that childhood abuse can cause permanent changes in the brain.

"As childhood trauma is highly common in substance abuse, addressing these trauma-related structural brain changes can help us develop better treatment plans to promote successful recovery from addiction," Sinha said in a news release.

The study is published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.