It is fair to assume that childhood abuse and Substance Use Disorder are inextricably linked (SUD). Although science and studies in the mental health and alcohol fields continue to progress, many people also need solutions to their addiction problems. Addiction, in mass culture, is complex and stigmatized as poor or powerless to improve. However, these distinct experiences for people who have undergone childhood trauma will lead to long-term adult illness, mental wellbeing, and drug abuse problems.
Addiction rates are high among adult trauma survivors but can be much higher among the youth. Whereas social and mental growth is critical to the path to maturity, trauma may have a significant effect on these aspects. This may lead to dysfunctional interactions with drugs. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), more than a third of teens who report violence or neglect will have a drug use problem by the time they turn 18 years old.
Childhood Trauma: What Causes It?
Trauma is a type of damage to the psyche that occurs as a result of a severely distressing event. Disrupting the person’s capacity to cope, diminishes their sense of self and limits their ability to feel a complete spectrum of emotions. According to a World Health Organization survey, one-third of the 125,000 people polled in 26 countries reported having suffered trauma. This can occur in a variety of cases, including but not limited to:
- Abuse of some kind, whether physical, sexual, or psychological
- Parental Divorce
- Complex Trauma
- Invasive surgical tests
- Drug use disorder within the family
- War experiences
- Life-threatening condition
- Natural calamities
- Bereavement or loss
If not treated, these kinds of traumatic events will elicit intense responses after the incident. Even if an adult figure tries to keep a child safe, these incidents can still occur. If a child becomes unsafe, he or she will experience helplessness, panic, and intense fear for years to come. The mind-bogging stimulation of emotional and physical reactions that accompany a traumatic experience will overwhelm children that are unsafe or lack security. This can result in post-traumatic symptoms.
Childhood Trauma and Its Impact on the Brain
Childhood abuse may have a significant impact on a child’s growth and development. Due to the fact that the brain does not completely mature until the age of 25. The Hippocampus, which helps control the body’s primary stress hormone, undergoes the most significant shifts. This hormone interacts with various parts of the body to regulate mood, motivation, and anxiety.
Aside from the Hippocampus, the cingulum-hippocampus projection (CGH-R) can also be seriously damaged. This area of the brain aids in emotional control and information retrieval. Stress and aggression can alter the form and connections within the brain. Depression can also affect the prefrontal cortex, which helps assess actions, memory, and emotional control. These changes in the brain usually develop quickly and often affect a child for the remainder of their lives, regardless of whether treatments have been applied.
These altered neural pathways and neuroreceptors are more receptive to tragic events, meaning a person who has endured childhood trauma will need a source of relief from these heightened states of discomfort. The euphoria caused by these activities includes bursts of hormones and other neurotransmitters in various regions of the brain’s reward pathway. This can be temporary in drug and alcohol abuse or process addiction such as eating disorders, gambling, or sexual addiction.
Effects in the brain occur as a result of stress, but can often happen as a result of drug misuse. A traumatized individual may have an insatiable need for comfort or satisfaction and may resort to higher-risk activities. Drugs, alcohol, and other high-risk behaviors can cause large surges of dopamine. When combined with changes in the brain caused by stress and the need for higher dopamine bursts, teaches the brain to search out medications rather than better coping strategies. This can eventually lead to addiction.
Childhood Trauma’s Manifestation
Trauma also presents itself in children in a variety of ways, including physically, mentally, and psychologically. Trauma’s physical impact may release more adrenaline and cortisol than the body already produces, triggering an attack, flight, or freeze responses. These responses may be induced again and again in circumstances that may have triggered thoughts or experiences of the distressing event but are not actually life-threatening.
Although these are some of the most prevalent symptoms, several other symptoms can be observed in survivors of a traumatic incident.
Childhood Trauma’s Psychological Impact on Adulthood
The ability to keep these memories and emotions at bay as children can be overwhelming. Trauma victims may feel helpless. Individuals also create new belief systems and internal maps to better cope in order to make sense of what happened. Individuals who carry these emotional wounds into adulthood may develop negative belief structures or views of a false identity to defend themselves and feel secure and accepted. Unsatisfied needs can also lead to drug misuse.
Negative self-talk is another psychological trait that may persist into adulthood as a result of childhood trauma. Victimized as children, adults may maintain a victim mindset, perpetuating the cycle of disempowerment and convincing a person that they have no influence over their lives. Individuals should not have the power over their life or condition as children, but they do not have to be victims for the rest of their lives. It can be a difficult pattern to crack, but with therapy and treatment, it is not impossible.
Furthermore, if a child grows up in a household where there is an excessive display of outrage, the child may continue to feel that expressing anger is inappropriate. If a traumatic event involved aggression or rage, the child can continue to control anger and feel it is a violent emotion. Individuals can suppress their emotions and are unable to articulate their frustration as they grow into adulthood. In this case, it is important to note that anger is a natural emotion that we all feel. Many that have been through this form of trauma can hold anger with them but cannot express it directly, eventually expressing it through passive-aggressiveness.
Addiction Treatment using a Trauma-Informed Approach
In alcohol recovery, childhood trauma and drug dependence should be treated together in a trauma-informed-care environment. Trauma-informed addiction treatment is a definitive model based on how trauma impacts the brain. As well as incorporating this insight to dictate health procedures and treating trauma symptoms. These interventions are not often designed to resolve and process the real case, but rather the signs that accompany it.
While there are many approaches to trauma-informed addiction treatment, there are three key points used in recovery trauma in this element, which are as follows:
- To foster symptom awareness through a strength-based approach.
- Reduce the possibility of re-traumatizing the patient.
- Offer and recognize trauma-informed services.
Trauma-informed addiction treatment is also based on the autonomic nervous system, which is activated in response to trauma. The sympathetic nervous system stimulates the individual, causing an increase in heart rate While the parasympathetic nervous system relaxes the individual, resulting in a decrease in heart rate. Though facilities vary, a variety of trauma-informed treatment modalities include therapies to help minimize the overstimulated sympathetic nervous system. This entails raising parasympathetic nervous system activation.
- Individual therapy
- Peer Support Groups
- Mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and relaxation techniques
- Dialectical behavioral therapy including emotional regulation and distress tolerance skills
- Desensitization therapy
Addressing these underlying problems with trauma-informed therapy has a higher chance of assisting patients in achieving long-term sobriety. Individuals that have endured childhood abuse and turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with the emotional distress, do it to seek comfort. If you or a loved one has experienced this please contact Harm Reduction Center for help.