30 Aug The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Addiction
Most addicts have experienced some form of childhood trauma. In fact, most children, both addicts and non-addicts alike, have been exposed to at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. As addicts, however, we tend to have experienced more sustained incidents of trauma in our lifetime, more severe trauma, or we simply process trauma differently than non-addicts for whatever reason – it will vary from addict to addict. Keep in mind that degrees of severity are matters of perspective and levels of resiliency vary, regardless of the degree of trauma. Renowned addiction expert, Gabor Maté, describes what happens inside of us when traumatic events occur as “a loss of connection to oneself and to the present moment.” So no matter what the traumatic incident is that occurs, if it causes a child to feel disconnected, anxious, or unsafe, it should never be taken lightly.
Please also note that no one is suggesting adults aren’t affected and deeply scarred from trauma that occurs later in life, too. Children just happen to be more vulnerable to long-term damage that results from trauma, particularly if it’s experienced repeatedly. This is because from birth until age 6, if the primary needs of a child are unmet or perceived to be unmet, either physically, emotionally, environmentally, or psychologically, the child is experiencing trauma in that moment. That being said, no traumatic experience should ever go neglected, regardless of whether it occurred in childhood or later in life.
The Causal Connection Between Trauma and Addiction:
Now let’s look at the causal connection between trauma and addiction. If a child experiences continuous physiological stress during brain development, that stress can cause structural disruptions to the brain as observed in neurological scans. These disruptions make victims of repeated childhood trauma much more susceptible to addiction than the average child. Children who’ve experienced trauma, particularly when it’s sustained, tend to show an increased desire to escape. Later in life, this desire to escape can often lead to substance abuse and, ultimately, addiction to things like drugs and alcohol. This is a way of self-medicating in order to escape the negative and sometimes shameful feelings associated with traumatic events.
There’s also a link between childhood trauma and behavioral compulsions, like compulsive eating, gambling, or compulsive sexual behavior (sex addiction). When a child is sexually abused, for example, sexual arousal is activated prematurely and it can also draw early connections in the brain’s neural network associating sex with shame, fear, power, confusion, and secrecy. This, in turn, can prevent children from developing healthy sexual patterns in adulthood, predisposing them to things like sexual anorexia, dysfunction, or compulsion, among other things.
Understanding Different Types of Trauma:
Understanding the specific types of trauma that occur during developmental years is a critical component to understanding why the issues need to be addressed in therapy and counseling later in life. This understanding can help specialists address the behavioral patterning that develops as children mature, and later into adulthood.
Children can’t usually discern trauma. Not only do they have an unconscious need to feel like everything is ok, but often, the trauma is being directly inflicted by a loved one or caregiver and as children, we’re taught to trust these people. As trauma survivors, however, once we can stop denying that the trauma occurred in the first place, we can begin the process of identifying the nature of the trauma by asking ourselves questions:
- Did the trauma occur at home or elsewhere?
- Were the people involved family members?
- Was it sustained or was it an isolated incident?
- Was a family member mentally ill?
- Was it sexual or physical abuse?
- Was it separation from a parent?
- Was it an intrusive medical procedure?
- Was it a serious illness?
- Did it happen in an unsafe or unstable environment?
We may or may not know the answer to these questions, but talking to a therapist or counselor can help. It can also be beneficial to reach out to the people who were involved. They may not want to discuss what happened, but it’s worth a try. Particularly if it provides information that helps the healing process.
Beginning the Healing Process:
Reliving the pain is probably the most difficult part of moving beyond past trauma, but it’s a necessary component to healing. Running away from some of these feelings is also very likely to be a large part of why addicts develop addictive patterns of behavior in the first place. Because we were self-medicating. Recognizing these feelings and allowing them to come up again, and then moving past them, is a big part of the healing process.
If you’re struggling with addiction and still battling demons from childhood trauma, counseling, group therapy, a good recovery program through a reputable private rehab, or all of the above can help you to identify the root cause of what’s causing you distress. It can also help you to identify the unhealthy behavioral patterns you’ve developed as a result, and provide you with the tools to start replacing them with healthy ones.
Finally, be patient and go easy on yourself. By working through the pain, you’ll find, slowly but surely, that you’re able to lean into life more and more. This way, you can cultivate the healthy, loving relationships you deserve while pursuing and protecting your dreams. Working through past trauma is never easy, but making those baby steps toward a behavioral change will put you on track to the freedom you so deserve – freedom from those shackles and that invisible wall you’ve hidden behind for years.
Kembali Recovery Center Can Help:
Kembali Recovery Center not only provides a safe haven to get clean, far away from your triggers, but we’ll help you to identify the underlying cause of what drove you to drink, use, or turn to other unhealthy and compulsive coping strategies in the first place. Contact us today to learn more.