Childhood trauma affects millions of Americans each day. Some are able to cope in healthy ways and others turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. What is the link between childhood trauma and addiction? Childhood trauma during the formative years of a child’s brain can cause lifelong changes. It can also cause trouble coping with the traumatic events that can impact them into adulthood. Understanding exactly how addiction and childhood trauma are related can make all the difference in seeking help for both conditions.
What is Childhood Trauma?
Childhood trauma is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as “the experience of an event by a child that is emotionally painful or distressful. Childhood trauma results in lasting mental and physical effects”. These traumatic events can be something environmental, or a personal event that impacted the child’s life. Leaving trauma untreated and unresolved can lead to some devastating effects on the child’s life. As a result, these effects can last through adulthood.
Events that can lead to childhood trauma include:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Psychological abuse
- Neglect (both physical and emotional)
- Substance abuse within the home
- Domestic violence
- Living with someone with untreated mental disorders
All of these can factor into potential childhood trauma. Thus, this childhood trauma can affect the formation of the brain negatively.
How Childhood Trauma Affects the Brain
When a child’s brain is developing, it is highly sensitive to the experiences the child is going through. If a parent is violent, or addicted to substances, that lead to trauma that could affect them throughout their lives. During formative years for the brain, any and all experiences children experience makes them who they eventually become as adults.
The link between childhood trauma and addiction is visible. It’s clear in those who turn to drugs and alcohol as a means of coping with the traumas they experienced during childhood. A child’s brain is like a sponge—they soak in and learn everything. When they are exposed to domestic violence—such as being sexually or physically abused—these experiences imprint on their brains.
As a result of sexual or physical abuse, these children will always have a memory of these events. It could potentially affect them negatively in the future. This can include ways they manage stress in the teenage and adult years. Or whether it be suffering from mental health disorders throughout their lives. Childhood trauma leaves a scar that can affect a child throughout their life.
How Trauma Can Lead to Addiction
Seeing the conection between childhood trauma and addiction can be simple. If a child has experienced sexual or physical abuse resulting in PTSD, they could undergo severe flashbacks and anxiety. This can include fear surrounding people or places, and situations. As they grow older and want to be able to enjoy life, they could start drinking, or experimenting with drugs to help make the social anxiety and flashbacks “manageable”. However, in reality all, that is happening is they are masking the symptoms and potentially making them worse.
When trauma occurs, especially in children, it can lead to mental health and behavioral problems. Things like anxiety and depression or poor decision making can be a direct result of experiencing trauma during childhood. Then, as these children grow older and their feelings and emotions change, they can sometimes turn to substances as a way of coping with the anxiety and depression.
Essentially, they are self-medicating the symptoms of the trauma. When this happens it can potentially lead to needing more and more in order to calm the brain, ease the anxiety, or make the depression appear to be less prevalent and resulting in addiction. Once substance use becomes dependence and addiction, it can be a hard cycle to escape. The feelings and emotions that the drugs and alcohol once masked, can be more prevalent and exacerbated.
The link between childhood trauma and addiction is one that has been studied for many years. Those who experienced trauma as a child and grew up and developed a substance use disorder can attest to the wide ranging effects it can have on someone’s life. Proper care and management can help break the cycle of addiction so healing from childhood trauma can occur.
Heal Childhood Trauma and Addiction in Nashville, TN
Childhood trauma can lead to some lifelong impacts to daily living. Leaving childhood trauma untreated and resolved can lead to addiction to drugs and alcohol when used as a means of self medication. If you or a loved one suffer with addiction due to childhood traumas, Brentwood Springs can help. We have professionals on staff to help you process and work through the traumas that led to your addiction.
Call us today and begin the healing process and begin your life of recovery.