Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Patricia Sullivan, MD MPH
Does childhood trauma lead to addiction? The way in which a person operates in the world is heavily dependent on how they were brought up. One’s upbringing determines all the qualities that they have whether it is good or bad. Addiction is one of those aspects that a person can obtain depending on their upbringing. This is precisely the purpose of this article, which is to show you the relationship between childhood trauma and addiction.
First, we will look at the types of childhood trauma that can be due to addiction. Then, we look at the research available to support the above this claim. Next, we will understand why people turn to substances if they have childhood trauma. Finally, we will see how both childhood trauma and addiction can be treated.
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Trauma & It’s Impact on Children
What is interesting about childhood trauma, or rather any kind of trauma, is that you cannot identify it objectively. Childhood trauma can occur in all sorts of ways for a person. Trauma itself is a broad term and it is a stress that causes emotional or physical harm that one cannot remove themselves from.
Another way of looking at trauma is that it ultimately depends on the person’s own internal feelings and sensitivities towards the stressful events. If the stress impacts the person in a negative way, such as feeling helpless or fearful, this can in fact lead to long-term problems later in their life. Those long-term problems could be mental disorders and/or substance addiction.
Common Traumatic Situations
Here are different situations a person can go through that are most commonly associated with trauma:
- Physical accidents (i.e. car accidents)
- Near death experience
- Sudden change in life
- Unstable family life
Emotional trauma is the leading cause of many addictions, and children are extremely prone to this sort of trauma. The reason being, children have a hard time putting stressful experiences into context and try to understand why they happened.
An unstable family is one of the primary causes of emotional trauma. Neglect, physical or emotional abuse, domestic violence, and separation from parents can all be facets of an unstable family environment. A healthy family environment is one in which a child can go to their family for love and support. Conversely, if a child doesn’t have anyone to turn to for that love and support, that is where the helplessness can start to settle in.
The child doesn’t have an outlet to express their feelings to or if they do and are met with hostility from their parents or siblings, then it will result in them bottling up those feelings. This habit will manifest later on in the child’s life and that is where problems start occurring, which we will discuss later on.
The Facts About Trauma and Addiction
Over the years, researchers, when looking at what causes addiction, have found substantial evidence of childhood trauma being an underlying factor.
One of those studies conducted at the University of Texas analyzed 32 teens, 19 of whom were maltreated in childhood (abuse or neglect that lasted six months or longer), and 13 of whom had no experience in childhood maltreatment. All participants were followed up every six months over three and half years. Researchers found that depression occurred in five of the maltreated teens, and it occurred in only one teen in the other group. More so, four of the maltreated teens were said to have developed a substance abuse disorder, and only one of the teens in the other group had developed a substance abuse disorder. Close to half of the teens in the maltreated group developed some disorder, whether depression or substance abuse, which heavily outweighed those teens in the other group.
Abuse And Alcoholism
Another study was conducted on those receiving treatment for alcoholism. They observed the rate of physical and sexual abuse in those who drink alcohol; one group was the general public, and the other group was alcoholics. In terms of physical abuse, 8.4% of those in the general public experienced it at some point in their lives. While 24% of men and 33% of women in the alcoholics’ group had experience with abuse. When they looked at sexual abuse, they saw that about 6% of those in the general public experienced it in their lives, and 12% of men and 49% of women experienced it in the alcoholics’ group. Taking this into consideration, one can see that the link between childhood trauma and alcoholism is severe and other substance abuse disorders.
Substance Abuse as Trauma Addiction
Why do those who suffer from childhood trauma resort to using substances? Well, the answer goes back to the idea of those with trauma making a habit of bottling up their feelings and emotions. Those emotions that build up inside a person can cause psychological anguish, and substances allow them to ease those thoughts away. Essentially, substances provide self-medication for those with trauma.
A person’s burning thoughts about their childhood trauma can leave them debilitated if they cannot use their particular substance. Without their substances, they may not go to work or school or even carry on with daily activities. Additionally, addicts with childhood trauma may form a bond with other drug users, which can imitate a family’s bond. In some ways, those with childhood trauma are just looking for something to give them that love and support they’re missing.
Recognize Childhood Trauma
Unfortunately, many cannot recognize childhood trauma early on. Many times, trauma goes under the radar. Problems in a person’s life are associated then begin in middle age. At this point, they may have gone years with their addiction. Conversely, waiting to treat addiction makes it harder to treat.
More so, they are likely to have a family of their own at this age. They may unknowingly give those similar traumatic experiences (neglect or abuse) to their children. A lack of education and public knowledge about addiction is why things like this go unnoticed within a person.
Addicts may feel a sense of shame or humiliation due to their addiction, and that feeling can add to more trauma in themselves and create more conflict in the future. Factoring childhood trauma and addiction together can make it even trickier to treat. However, there are ways of treating both, which we will talk about in the next section.
Managing Trauma and Addiction
Recovery specialists have come up with methods to help treat those with childhood trauma and addiction. One of those approaches is called the ‘trauma-informed approach.’ This is where specialists become educated about traumas, such as how they affect interpersonal relationships and the overall impact on a person. They can then use what they have learned to help those suffering from trauma and addiction by passing on the knowledge to them.
There are a few basic principles the trauma-informed approach follows. One of those principles is creating a comfortable and welcoming environment for trauma survivors. An environment that will ensure that clients are physically and psychologically safe, meaning they are places where there are no confrontations or re-victimization. Another basic principle is that specialists will simultaneously address trauma and substance abuse so people can better understand from where their problems stem.
The Importance Of Empowerment
Empowerment is an additional principle, and a critically important one that the trauma-informed method utilizes. This is where clients can develop ways to overcome those psychological barriers that have kept them in addiction. Empowerment lets trauma survivors know that the trauma they experienced is not their fault and that they have the strength to carry a sober and healthy life without substances.
Not only that, recovery specialists give trauma survivors full control of where, how, and when they will receive treatment. Additionally, allowing this helps clients take the little steps they need to take back their lives.
Addiction recovery centers will also help trauma survivors recover through the facilities and programs they implement.
A successful recovery is separating a person from their addiction and separating them from their trauma. As more research is being done on childhood trauma and addiction, it will be easier to help people recover.
Addiction and Relationships
You may have read this and may have asked yourself, “Do I have emotional trauma?” Quite possibly, if you have an addiction, you may have underlying conditions of childhood trauma.
However, it would help if you always consulted with a medical professional to give you proper insight. If it turns out to be the case, you shouldn’t worry. Having an addiction and having childhood trauma is nothing to be ashamed of. As long as you take the proper steps in getting treatment, everything will be fine.
It may be painful to address some of the trauma in the past, but you must confront it to grow and become a better person.
Don’t let your addiction or your childhood trauma keep you from living the life you deserve. Addressing trauma in substance abuse treatment is essential, and you will receive support from expert staff, who will do their utmost to help you reach recovery.
If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction and have dealt with trauma please reach out to a rehab center and get treated, call now at (385) 327-7418.
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