A common question in today’s world is what drives abuse of drugs and alcohol? While the answer to that isn’t exactly a ‘one fits all’ model, there are many things that can potentially lead to whether or not someone will become an addicted person later on in life. This can include things like genetic predisposition, how old a person is the first time they try drugs or alcohol, peer pressure, their success in school, how stable their home environment is and influence of family members. Of course, this is not an all-inclusive list of what eventually leads an addict to develop an addiction. Research suggests that childhood trauma can also have a significant impact on the likelihood of someone developing an addiction.
Addiction has become an overwhelming epidemic in our society as accessibility and acceptability have increased drug usage across the country. Today, in the United States alone, more than 23.5 million people are afflicted with this disease that changes the brain of the user over time. Often times surrounding it is the stigma or idea that addicts are somehow less capable, weak minded or criminalistic. The doctors and researchers who focus on this subject have found that that is just completely not true.
Sadly, statistics show that one in every six boys and one in every four girls will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday. The non-profit organization RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) reports that every 8 minutes government officials respond to a report of child sexual abuse. Additionally, the National Institute of Health (NIH) states that one third of children with a report of child abuse or neglect will have a substance abuse problem by their 18th birthday. Furthermore, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), nearly 55 to 60 percent of people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also have a substance abuse disorder of some kind.
What is Trauma?
The term trauma can be defined as an adverse and often malignant reaction to a singular or repetitive event that caused severe physical or psychological harm. It is characterized by a patient’s inability to move past and process the experience without reliving it over and over again. Any type of dramatic event early on in life can be traumatic, such as;
- Rape, sexual assualt, molestation
- Physical assault
- Domestic violence or other types of family/household violence
- Verbal and emotional abuse
- Bullying and/or repeated harassment of any kind
- Terminal illness
- Natural disasters
- Accidents such as a house fire or car crash
- Parental neglect
Trauma of any kind can eventually lead someone to an addiction, especially those who develop a mental health disorder because of the traumatic event(s). Many trauma survivors will turn to drugs and alcohol to help cope with their feelings and any sort of mental health problems they may have because of their past traumatic experiences.
Signs and Symptoms of Childhood Trauma
While living with trauma can be different for everyone, there are some clear signs you can look out for if you think you or someone you know may be suffering from their traumatic experiences.
- Shock, denial, or disbelief
- Avoidance of things that are associated with the traumatic event(s), such as people or places
- Anger, irritability, mood swings
- Fear and anxiety
- Erratic changes in behavior
- Guilt, shame, self blame
- Withdrawing from others
- Depression, feeling sad or hopeless
- Constantly reliving the event(s)
Keep in mind, this is not a complete list of signs or symptoms. If you believe you or someone else you know may be suffering trauma, do not hesitate to ask for help from a professional today!
How Childhood Trauma Impacts the Brain
Childhood trauma has become increasingly associated with addiction later on in life and can have a severe impact on brain development. According to statistical data, 37 percent of women currently in prison report abuse as a child while 14 percent of all men currently in prison report childhood abuse, but it is commonly supported that men are less likely to admit to others when they have been abused. Furthermore, research suggests that more than two-thirds of people in treatment for drug abuse report being abused or neglected as a child. It is important to understand the effects of trauma on the brain during early development in order to understand the powerful connection between addiction and childhood trauma.
The brains of children are literally shaped by traumatic experiences, which can lead to not only problems with addiction but with anger and criminal activity, along with many others as well. Early in life, the human brain is a social organ, hence the term “monkey see, monkey do”. It is shaped by experience, and if one grows up in a state of terror, the brain is wired to be on alert for danger and to make those feelings go away. The negative experience(s) teaches their brain to operate out of a state of fear and anxiety.
Additionally, scientists have discovered that there are also physical changes that can occur with childhood trauma. Brain imaging has shown that the part of the brain that is responsible for processing and emotional regulation changes in size with childhood trauma victims. This can also have an effect on memory and learning. The brain’s inner connections, the brain shape, and its size can all be influenced by the long term stress or abuse of a child.
Reasons Why Trauma Victims Use Drugs
Aside from the change in the development of the brain, there are several reasons why trauma victims may decide to being using drugs or alcohol, research has shown that these are a few of the most common reasons;
- To cope with or block out their traumatic memories
- To deal with feelings of isolation or loneliness
- Improve feelings of self-worth or self-esteem
- To cope with mental health problems related to their trauma, such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
Early childhood trauma is not something that should be taken lightly and we sincerely apologize for any trauma that you or your loved one may be suffering from. If you are experiencing any symptoms of trauma, or are struggling with an addiction, then have we experienced professionals who are trained specifically to understand and help treat victims of trauma or those struggling with an addiction. Call us today, we care about your recovery!