The Connection Between Addiction And Childhood Trauma

An addiction is a repeating dysfunction of the brain that involves reward, motivation, and memory. It’s about the way your body craves a substance or behavior, especially if it causes a compulsive or obsessive pursuit of “reward” and lack of concern over consequences. Many factors can contribute to addiction – genetics, environment, personal behavior, and experience. The relationship between childhood trauma and addiction is complicated and closely related in one way or another. In other words, they both affect each other; the negative consequences of one disorder can worsen the problems of the other.

What Is Considered Trauma?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) describes trauma as any event or set of circumstances experienced by an individual as life-threatening or emotionally or physically harmful. This trauma has lasting effects on an individual’s ability to function socially, mentally, physically, spiritually, or emotionally. In psychological terms, trauma is a situation or an event that a person simply cannot cope with. It can leave the person in an extreme state of fear, making them overwhelmingly afraid of imminent death, destruction, or actual physical or mental harm.

More Than Childhood Trauma Can Lead To Addiction

Many associate childhood trauma with child abuse, but other stress-inducing and traumatic experiences linked to an elevated vulnerability to addiction include neglect, the loss of a parent, witnessing domestic or other physical violence, and having a family member who has a mental illness.

Trauma is a very personal experience that depends upon the individual. It can be a response to a single, one-time occurrence, or it can be developed over time because of a repeated situation. Some of the causes of trauma might include:

  • child abuse
  • neglect
  • violence
  • bullying
  • accidents
  • crime
  • natural disasters
  • domestic assault
  • extreme deprivation
  • sexual assault
  • war

What is important to note is that a person who suffers from exposure to trauma doesn’t necessarily need to be the victim – witnessing any of these occurrences can be just as harmful.

Childhood Trauma Can Lead To Other Problems If Left Untreated

A person who has suffered childhood trauma first-hand will experience an entire list of negative emotions. If the trauma and the feelings associated with it are not resolved, serious long-term issues can develop. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) disrupts the lives of people who have experienced unresolved trauma by negatively impacting their relationships, emotions, physical body, thinking, and behavior. People living with PTSD may experience sleep disturbances, nightmares, anxiety and depression, flashbacks, dissociative episodes in which they feel disconnected from reality, excessive fears, self-injurious behaviors, impulsiveness, and addictive traits/a predisposition to addiction.

Because of the effects of childhood trauma, it can be difficult to manage negative emotions and stressors associated with it. This can often lead individuals to seek unhealthy ways of coping, including substance abuse. A reported 90 percent of individuals in a behavioral healthcare setting have experienced childhood trauma. For many, this childhood trauma is often chronic and may occur over several years.

Additionally, individuals who engage in risky and harmful behaviors due to substance use are more likely to experience a traumatic event as a result of such behaviors. Thus, in this instance, trauma can be an outcome of substance abuse.

Why Do Victims Of Childhood Trauma Sometimes Turn To Substance Abuse?

There are many reasons why some turn to substance abuse after experiencing a traumatic event during their childhood. For example, some people use substances to help dull the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a disorder that often develops due to trauma.

Common symptoms associated with PTSD include hypersensitivity, social withdrawal, depression, and insomnia. While alcohol and drugs may initially help manage these symptoms, addiction inhibits people from healing from the trauma. Over time, the seeming “cure” becomes physically and emotionally damaging, just like the traumatic event.

Trauma and addiction are co-occurring disorders, and therefore, both must be treated to improve chances of long-term recovery. At ARIA FL, we understand what a battle it is because many addiction specialists recover themselves. Our evidence-based treatment programs have helped countless men and women overcome addiction. So stop suffering and get help today.