The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Addiction

childhood trauma and addiction

Trauma is a life experience that can be physical and mental abuse as well as neglect during the growing years. It is a topic of major public health concern in the United States. Early trauma exposure is known to increase the risk of mental disorders in adulthood, while many who suffered from childhood trauma are quite resilient. 

Research has shown that trauma compromises neural function, develops cognitive deficits and mental illness such as major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse.

There’s a link between trauma experience and substance abuse. For example- the National Survey of Adolescents, teens who had suffered from sexual or physical abuse/assault, were more likely to report addiction than those without a trauma history. Adolescents receiving substance abuse treatment, roughly 70%, had a history of trauma.

Causes of Trauma

Trauma occurs when one’s response to an external event overpowers their coping skills. For example,- a child who is physically abused does not understand the reason for the abuse and how to escape from the situation. The child might deal with the situation in certain ways- running away from home, poor attention to studies, and gradually giving it to the drug.

The types of traumatic experiences can lead to long and painful mental health issues caused by repeated and prolonged incidents that occurred before adulthood. These experiences include physical abuse, sexual abuse, repeated abandonment, neglect, and psychological abuse.

Trauma is a board term and can be described based on incidents like:

General physical assault 

Rape or sexual assault

Bullying, repeated or prolonged harassment

Accidents such as house fire, or crashes

Natural calamities

Parental neglect

The common behavioral and psychological trauma symptoms include:

Prolonged irritability or agitation

Avoiding things that bring back trauma memories

Sudden changes in mood and behavior

Lack of confidence and timid behavior

An excessive and inappropriate display of emotions

Post-Traumatic Stress Discorder

PTSD is commonly associated with war veterans but can be found in any individual who suffered a traumatic event. In fact, women who have a history of trauma is most likely to develop PTSD. Around 5% of men and 10% of women over the course of lifetimes, will experience PTSD symptoms. PTSD symptoms include re-experiencing or reliving an event, avoid circumstances that remind a person, feeling anxious or numb.

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How Trauma and Addiction is Connected

There is continuous research conducted to understand drug and alcohol abusers whom have a history of trauma. In Kaiser Permanente’s Adverse Childhood Experiences study, a child who goes through four to five traumatic events is more likely to become an alcoholic, 60% likely to become obese, and 46 times more likely to choose injection-drug abuse.

The common reason behind this co-occurrence of trauma and addiction is complex. Some are trying to manage the trauma effects that may turn to drugs, alcohol or self-medication. For example, PTSD symptoms like hypersensitivity occur from sudden movements including extremely loud noises, agitation, depression, insomnia, and social withdrawal which may seem more manageable through stimulating or sedating oneself via drugs.

Another theory states that an addict’s lifestyle puts him/her in the harm more often than a non-addicted person. Dangerous neighborhoods, unpleasant acquaintances, impaired driving, and other facets are associated with alcohol and drug abuse.

The Negative Impact Of Trauma

Trauma has a negative impact on several aspects of adulthood. Childhood trauma has a direct impact on your workplace. It has a direct influence on how subjects perceive and process adversity, relate to others, trust, handle responsibility, and much more.

Trauma survivors, especially those who experienced sexual/physical/emotional abuse, have serious intimacy issues that can become a barrier in a building a healthy romantic relationship. Data indicates that trauma has an influence on how we form a sexual identity, develop self-worth, assert confidence, trust others, embrace relationships, and more.

Bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating disorder are mental illnesses often connected with childhood abuse. According to The New York Center for Eating Disorders, around 50% of the patients with eating disorders are victims of childhood assault.

It’s easier for people to trust food than trusting people. Food is the most available, legal, and cheapest mood-altering option on the market. Patients turned top purging, bingeing, or starving to manage unbearable emotions due to sexual trauma.

The Way Ahead

The trauma-informed treatment center takes a collaborated approach to medical intervention, treating the disease, not just the trauma or substance abuse symptoms. Trauma care practitioners work in line with the addicts during their withdrawal symptoms and find healthy coping mechanisms.

Childhood trauma-induced addiction should be address with immediate medical interventions while providing an in-depth treatment program for the behavioral aspects of the abuse. The treatment is followed by a medically supervised detoxification, customized behavioral rehab, and medication interventions. While treatment for one patient will depend on their trauma level and scope of substance abuse, successful management of stress will help in speedy recovery.

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