Is There a Link Between Childhood and Addiction?
What occurs during the first several years of our lives has a tremendous impact on the remaining decades of it. Unfortunately, not all experiences are positive and can increase the odds of addiction occurring later in life.
Specifically, experiencing trauma as a child can result in post-traumatic stress disorder, high levels of depression, anxiety or a combination of these. These symptoms cause people to look for ways to dull the pain, and they end up finding comfort in the numbness of drugs or alcohol – and eventually become addicted.
This connection between childhood and addiction is what often results in higher rates of drug or alcohol use later in life. In fact, later in life may not be all that much later as teenagers are often heavy users.
What is Trauma?
Trauma includes any situation in which the person fears for their safety, is physically attacked, witnesses an attack or experiences intense physical or emotional pain. It should be noted that how children react, both at that time and later in life, does vary quite a bit and in ways that are not always readily apparent. For example, a child may not show any outward signs of having been affected but that may not be true.
Oftentimes, a situation that occurs to a child tends to be more traumatic than if that exact same situation takes place in an adult's life. In other words, children are more susceptible to experiencing trauma than adults are. Part of the reason for this is because children are not able to make contextual inferences, frames of reference, that would allow them to better process those types of situations. Children often rely on loved ones for so much but are left confused and often cannot handle it very well when those same loved ones are the source of abuse or neglect.
Connection Between Childhood and Addiction
A famous study of 17,000 patients that was done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente from 1995-97 found that children who had experienced at least four traumatic events were five times more likely to become addicted to alcohol than the general public and 46 times as likely to use injection drugs.
What Sparks Drug and Alcohol Use in Those with Childhood Trauma?
Turning to drugs and alcohol allow these people to temporarily forget the past and temporarily forget the trauma that they had endured.
Drugs and alcohol also release dopamine in unhealthy ways, and these dopamine hits on the brain provide feel-good emotions that help counter the pain of what had happened during childhood. Some drugs also provide a feeling of safety for the users, something that they might not have felt growing up.
Using drugs or alcohol also serves as a temporary and dangerous form of stress relief from dealing with childhood trauma.
Special Dangers of Teenagers Using Drugs and Alcohol
The impact of childhood trauma on drug and alcohol use is often revealed when those impacted are still children. In fact, teen substance abuse is a significant issue throughout the country.
The dangers of teenagers using these substances are more pronounced than adults doing so for two main reasons. One is that teens do not assess the risks of doing something – i.e. using drugs or alcohol – as well as adults do as that part of their brains are not fully formed yet. The other is that drugs and alcohol can have a profound impact on teens' brains because they're still developing. Those substances keep them from being able to fully develop the parts of their brains related to areas such as memory, pleasure and perceptual skills.
Adults Influencing Children to Use Drugs
Even if adults are not physically handing drugs or alcohol to children to consume, if they are using those substances themselves in front of their children, they are setting an example for them. Later in life, these same children will often model the behavior that they witnessed growing up, both positive ones as well as negative ones such as these.
Long-Term Effects of Using Drugs and Alcohol to Treat Childhood Trauma
Many who use alcohol and drugs to treat childhood trauma do dull the memory of that trauma but in ways that are significantly more damaging. More to the point, this temporary "cure" starts causing more pain than the trauma ever did. When the drug or alcohol addiction is overcome, the childhood trauma that had been suppressed is there waiting to return to the forefront.
For this reason, it's especially important for those with underlying issues to seek professional help while recovering from alcohol or drug use. Once the trauma resurfaces, it can be handled in a much healthier manner when supervised by a professional counselor and medical staff. This also helps the individual from not replacing the addiction to drugs or alcohol with a different one such as gambling, overeating or anything that is compulsion-driven or even addiction to a different drug than before.
When an individual chooses to seek assistance from SpringBoard Recovery’s trusted staff, we work alongside them to provide the best service possible and to give them a full recovery. We focus on the underlying issues and don’t subscribe a one-size-fits all methodology of treatment. We understand that each person who comes to us is unique, and we will work to create a plan for them that will bring them success.
Although childhood trauma does not necessitate later addictions to unhealthy substances, the evidence has clearly stated that the odds of the latter occurring are increased when combined with the trauma.
If you or a loved one has suffered from trauma or is struggling with addiction, please reach out to SpringBoard Recovery for help. We will ensure that the best plan is put into place with an aim to overcome the addiction and that any underlying trauma-related issues are handled as well.