Can childhood trauma cause lifelong addiction?

Can childhood trauma cause lifelong addiction?

Trauma is a physical or psychological damage that one may experience as a result of facing a difficult or painful event in life. An individual who has dealt with a traumatic event in his/her life may have to deal with certain emotional, psychological or physical effects, including stress that could be difficult to cope with. Trauma is of various kinds and is the result of actions such as bullying, domestic violence, sexual abuse, alcoholic parents, surviving a war or extreme weather conditions, verbal abuse or any other. As an adult, a certain level of maturity or experience may help in mitigating the effects of such trauma, but a child, in many ways, is more vulnerable and thus, far worse off in the face of extreme situations.

According to the National Children’s Alliance 2013 national abuse statistics, approximately 679,000 children were victims of abuse and neglect (unique instances), in that year.

Childhood trauma carries the risk of the child getting scarred or wounded for life. It can be so severe that a person can never be healed during his/her lifetime. A number of studies have revealed that a child’s brain development depends on the type of environment he/she is exposed to during early childhood. If the children grow up in a stable environment, they become well-adjusted adults prepared for life’s uncertainties and comfortable in a variety of situations. On the other hand, if the environment they experience in their early years is traumatic or full of violence, neglect or abuse, the child may develop problems as an adult, making it difficult for him/her to adjust to a normal life.

Childhood trauma affects different parts of the brain

Childhood trauma affects an individual’s health, both physical as well as mental. It impacts brain parts that include the amygdala, the hippocampus and the cortex in different ways. The amygdala, which is also the brain’s threat detection center, gets overactive on facing extreme trauma. It, thereafter, is constantly engaged in looking for, seeing and assessing threats, real or otherwise, making a person highly anxious, vulnerable and fearful.

The effect on the hippocampus, the brain’s center for processing memories, is that it gets underactive. This, in turn, puts the memories in the present day loop instead of consolidating it and placing them in the outer layer of the brain for long-term storage. It makes the person experience repeatedly certain disturbing and uncomfortable recollections. The brain’s center for executive control, i.e., the cortex, is interrupted by the survival-oriented instincts arising from the inner brain section, which does not allow one to think logically and also diminishes one’s ability to restricting one’s behavior. Thus, refraining from an addiction gets difficult for such an individual.

Facing trauma as a child can lead to a life of addiction

Kids who are exposed to a high level of stress and childhood trauma are at a greater risk of developing some form of an addiction later in their lives. This is because alcohol and drugs offer a sort of relief from the stress. Therefore, the more the stress an individual has to deal with, the more he/ she is at a risk of developing an addiction.

A child might experience various forms of abuse such as emotional, physical and sexual. The trauma can also be inflicted by a mentally ill parent, a parent who abuses drugs or alcohol, a parent who was imprisoned for some reason, domestic violence, neglect and others.

While trauma can make an individual suicidal, aggressive, insomniac, and have hallucinations, such a person is also prone to abuse alcohol and drugs. Such individuals opt for these substances  as a way to cope with their high level of stress and pain. However, though these might help them dull the stress, in the beginning, it might worsen later.

Don’t lead a life of addiction: Seek help

Childhood trauma does not guarantee that the person will become an addict but it increases their chances of becoming one. If you, or someone you know, has faced such a trauma and developed an addiction, the Dual Diagnosis Helpline can assist you in finding the best dual diagnosis rehab centers. You may call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-981-6047 or chat online to know about various dual diagnosis rehabs in the U.S.