Addiction is a very common problem in the U.S. that affects millions of people. But despite the generalization and stigma surrounding addiction, it is very complex, and its roots may start taking effect during a person’s early development. Knowing the connection between childhood trauma and addiction is vital to understand this problem.
For instance, a lot of patients who survive tragic experiences engage in unhealthy relationships with drugs or alcohol. In addition, 40% of people with post-traumatic stress disorder suffer from substance use disorders.
How Trauma Affects the Brain
The developing brain is highly adaptable. It enables someone to quickly change so they can meet the demands of the environment and absorb new information and grow.
When there is trauma, the same function that enables children to acquire information and develop habits becomes dangerous. This is because children can adapt to a negative environment in the same way as a positive one.
Children who experience trauma are also known to have physical changes in their brains. This includes the size of their hippocampus, which is responsible for regulating memory. This part of the brain is also in charge of the cingulum-hippocampus projection, which plays a leading role in emotional processing and regulation. These changes will affect the child for the rest of their life.
Because of this, people exposed to trauma when they were a child are most likely to develop depression and anxiety as they grow up. They also have increased vulnerability to addiction and may end up needing a drug rehab program down the road.
Addiction as a Coping Mechanism
The growth of people exposed to trauma gets interrupted. Children cannot contextualize experiences, such as:
- Loss of a loved one
- Sexual assault
Because of this, they start self-medicating and acting out. In most cases, they also use outside factors to make themselves feel better. These external factors may be food, a toy, or sticking to their parents. These innocent forms of self-medication can turn to opioid addiction or abuse of alcohol as they get older since they become more aware of their pain.
Considering this, substance use is an unhealthy response to the natural need of a child to be comforted. Those who survived trauma have a hard time handling negative emotions and stress because they did not have an opportunity to develop the right coping mechanisms. This affects the personal growth and self-esteem of the child. Low self-esteem can also drive them to look for substances that will give them support in high-stress environments. For instance, someone may use alcohol as a social crutch.
Childhood Trauma and Dual Diagnosis
Those who went through a traumatic experience who go on to become addicted to substances are complex cases. This is because they are facing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or changes in their learning and development, which hamper their ability to live normally and healthily.
Before they can be treated for addiction and mental illness, they must discuss their problems with a professional who can diagnose their specific condition. Therapists can devise a custom plan that works for them.
Due to the high prevalence of childhood trauma and addiction, many professionals use therapy and trauma screening to recognize dual diagnosis. This is crucial in recovery since patients who go through recovery with unrecognized conditions will most likely return to their old ways. Such a relapse occurs because they haven’t developed the right skills to manage living a life without dangerous substances.
You Can Get Help
While not every person who suffers from drug or alcohol abuse suffered from trauma in their early years, the prevalence of childhood trauma and addiction is common. If you need help, do not hesitate to contact Midwest Recovery Center. Call 833.627.0039 today to speak with a professional about mental health or addiction symptoms.