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Can Childhood Trauma Lead to Addiction?

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Childhood is a time for exploration, learning, developing, and having fun. Unfortunately, even children are not exempt from experiencing trauma or the repercussions of it. Parents may go to all ends to keep their children sheltered and away from anything that could cause them physical or emotional harm, but the truth of the matter is, all children get impacted by something negative or traumatic at one point or another during their young, formative years. According to the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), approximately 25.3% of children in America have experienced one type of childhood trauma, while 22.6% have experienced at least two. And, unfortunately, one of the most common repercussions of childhood trauma is developing substance use disorder in the future. Studies show that early childhood trauma and addiction are heavily linked, creating more than just childhood problems.

Types of Childhood Trauma

Children’s brains are rapidly developing during their youngest years, which is completely normal and an overall good thing. But, because their brains are still in this developmental stage, they are more susceptible to the lasting impacts that childhood trauma can bring. Some of the most common types of childhood trauma that young kids can experience can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Mental illness
  • Divorce
  • Substance abuse
  • Violence targeting the mother
  • Bullying
  • Having a relative who has been or is in jail or prison

According to NYU Langone Health, even the COVID-19 pandemic is currently serving as a source of childhood trauma for children across the globe. During this time, many children have been exhibiting symptoms such as unwanted thoughts, avoidance techniques, hyperarousal, nightmares, and negative feelings. In addition to the global pandemic, children are also experiencing trauma related to the increase in natural disasters occurring throughout the country.

Signs of Childhood Trauma

Every child is unique in their own way, which means that they are going to react to trauma in their own ways, too. Each child who experiences trauma is not going to exhibit the exact same symptoms as another child who experiences the same type of trauma. However, there are often several similarities in the symptoms that children experience when they go through one or more traumatic events. 

Common symptoms of childhood trauma can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Constantly being alert
  • Intense, ongoing emotional upset
  • Feelings of fear or terror
  • Depression
  • Nightmares, night terrors, and/or problems sleeping
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Problems trusting others
  • Difficulty developing relationships
  • Regression of skills previously displayed
  • Physical aches or pains
  • Poor academic performance
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Incontinence, including bed-wetting
  • Risky behavior 
  • Racing heart

Children can experience these symptoms directly after surviving a traumatic event or even for years after the event has occurred. Children who do experience trauma are more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol to cope, especially if they have not fully dealt with their mental and emotional status post-trauma. Unfortunately, this often leads to further substance abuse and addiction. 

Early Childhood Trauma and Addiction

It can be understood that when someone is feeling overwhelmed, the desire to drink or use drugs can creep in. That is because mind-altering substances can temporarily drown out whatever is bothering a person at that moment. What drugs or alcohol cannot do, however, is make a person’s problems disappear. In fact, drugs and alcohol do the opposite — they make more problems develop.

Studies show that children who experience trauma are five times more likely to experience alcoholism. Alcoholism is a long-term disease that cannot be cured, rather treated if treatment is obtained. Drug addiction, like alcoholism, is more common in children who have experienced trauma, too. So why exactly are early childhood trauma and addiction so closely connected?

Early childhood trauma and addiction go hand-in-hand, as many children lack the appropriate coping skills to overcome traumatic events. And while there are many children who do experience trauma and who do receive the appropriate psychological treatment for it, there are many who do not. When the impacts of trauma (constant anxiety, mood swings, depression, poor social skills, etc.) persist, they can become too much for a young person to deal with. Prior to age 25, children, teenagers, and young adults still have yet to fully develop their prefrontal cortex of their brain. This part of the brain controls decision-making skills. Because of this natural factor, children who have survived trauma not only have odds stacked against them to turn to drug and alcohol abuse to cope because of the effects of the trauma, but also face challenges making good decisions simply because of where they are at in their development. 

When early childhood trauma and addiction combine, there are sometimes reasons for it outside of trying to cope with psychological upset. For example, say a child experienced domestic violence in the home while growing up. Say that child’s father was abusive towards his mother when he was under the influence. That child has grown up watching their father figure utilize mind-altering substances as a means of coping. Even though that child might disagree with their father’s substance abuse, that child is already inherently more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol in the future because of the behaviors they learned within their environment while growing up. Combine that with the trauma of having a violent, addicted father and it becomes more probable for that child to turn to drugs or alcohol in the future to manage their own problems.

Drug Rehab in St. Augustine

Early childhood trauma and addiction are often connected because of these and other reasons. At Pearl of the Sea Retreat, we understand that the impacts of childhood trauma have likely lasted with you far past your childhood. We also understand that you may have found yourself abusing drugs or alcohol just to cope with those traumas. Thankfully, both substance use disorders and lasting effects of trauma can be treated. 
If you are ready to get the help and support you need to take back control of your life, contact us right now. We can help.

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