There is a known correlation between childhood trauma and addiction. When a child is young and still developing mentally and physically, they are not yet at the point where they can productively deal with trauma and move on from it. Thus, instead, they tend to try to comfort themselves in any way they can. This is often done by trying to avoid thinking about the details of their trauma and pretending that the event never happened. This can seem like a temporary solution that may even work for a while, but at the end of the day, the trauma is still there and has not been dealt with.
When it is not addressed, trauma can continue to cause serious issues well into adulthood. Many people turn to substance use as a way of dealing with this sort of pain and a vicious cycle can ensue.
Understanding What Trauma Is
Trauma is a certain event or series of events that are emotionally or physically harmful to an individual. In many cases, perception plays a huge role in how trauma affects someone. For example, a young child might experience some sort of abuse but not yet be able to understand that this abuse is wrong. Years down the road, this realization may hit them all of a sudden and take an enormous emotional toll. Some people enter adulthood still dealing with childhood trauma that they aren't even consciously aware of because they have pushed it away for so long. Some common forms of childhood trauma include:
- Being neglected by one's parents
- Watching acts of domestic violence take place
- Losing a parent or close family member
- Being the victim of mental, emotional, or physical abuse
- Watching a loved one struggle with a serious health condition
- Experiencing an act of violence
- Watching a parent or close loved one struggle with a drug or alcohol addiction
Understanding How Trauma Affects the Brain and Body
When someone experiences trauma, they go into what is called “fight-or-flight” mode. This is when they are in a time of great pressure and their brain forces them to decide whether they will confront it head-on (fight) or avoid the problem altogether (flight). Because many children don't have the ability to actually confront what has happened to them, they choose the flight method.
However, just because they have chosen this method, it doesn't make the problem disappear. They may experience certain triggers in the future that remind them exactly how they felt at the moment that they experienced the trauma. For example, they may see someone pouring a drink or hear the clinking of glasses and immediately recall a memory of their partner consuming alcohol before becoming violent with a family member.
These triggers can cause both mental and physical health problems. Some examples include:
- An inability to be in certain social situations
- A racing heart
- Heavy breathing
- Problems eating
- Difficulties in getting proper sleep
- Experiencing sudden flashbacks
- The development of mental health problems like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, bipolar disorder, and depression
Understanding the Connection Between Substance Use and Trauma
Many people who experience childhood trauma don't believe that there is really any possible way for them to find relief. They have been carrying this major, heavy burden for so long that they are desperate to find relief in any way that they can. Many of them choose to turn to substance misuse as it can temporarily dull the pain. They may feel as if their substance use allows them to escape reality and feel better. While they may look at this as a form of self-medicating, it can quickly turn into a substance use disorder (SUD) that has spiraled out of their control. This process can lead to serious problems and health complications; turning to substance use can even cause their mental health to worsen.
Beginning the Healing Process
Are you are struggling with your mental health as a result of childhood trauma? If so, it is important that you know that this is not your fault and that help is available. Turning to substance misuse is only like placing a band-aid over a gaping wound and it will do you no lasting good. Instead, reach out to a therapist and begin working with them regularly. They will help you work through emotions and memories that you have long suppressed and help you to learn how to move forward. They can also help you learn how to adapt healthier and more productive coping mechanisms for stress. You might find out a lot about yourself that you never knew before.
There is a definite correlation between childhood trauma and substance use disorder. When a young child experiences trauma, they are not yet at the point where they can deal with it in a rational or productive way. Instead, when they experience a fight-or-flight response, they make the decision to avoid the problem instead of confronting it head-on. While this can seem like a temporary solution, it does not address the actual trauma that took place. It can also lead to major mental health issues and substance abuse down the road. Substance abuse does not heal the pain of trauma. Instead, it is important to work with a therapist who can help you heal in a productive way. If you are struggling with a substance use disorder, our team at The Ho Tai Way can help. Call (714) 581-3974 today to learn more about our various services.