Childhood trauma and Addiction
In my blog post dated 8/27/15 I briefly mentioned a book about childhood trauma. Having been involved in recovery for about 25 years I’ve noticed that many people in recovery from addiction have histories of childhood trauma or growing up in a dysfunctional family. One time I mentioned in a meeting that I had never heard of someone who got into addiction trouble who said “I had a happy life, I just started drinking too much.” Of course, when I said that someone had to disagree and stated that was their history. I have reasons to be suspicious of that person’s claim but I won’t get into that now. Since this was my anecdotal experience I decided to look further into the possible correlation between childhood trauma and substance abuse.
It turns out my suspicions were correct. There is indeed an extensive body of research showing a strong positive correlation between Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) and problems with addiction. There is also a positive correlation with many other medical and psychiatric conditions. One of the best studies evaluated over 17,000 adults and rated them on an ACE scale. There was a relation to multiple adverse health and psychiatric disorders with high ACE scores.(1). I don’t want to get into too much detail, but several adverse brain changes have been correlated with ACE. I think it’s safe to say that the more screwed you were as a kid, the harder time you will have as an adult. Those hard times may include a tendency to addiction. A brief article by Maia Szalavitz in Time magazine discusses a couple of these changes and how they interfere with thought processes. (2). Thought processes that may keep us from abusing substances.
As an aside, these are some of the reasons I am really bothered by the stigmatization and prejudice directed towards addicts. They’ve almost universally struggled with abuse and adversity. Further rejection and discrimination is not helpful. The idea that addicts are just weak willed people who want to indulge their desires to party is about 180 degrees wrong.
It’s often said that drinking or using are symptoms of a deeper problem. Often people use substances for self treating their psychological maladies. This research seems to confirm that.
It’s more therapeutic to approach addicted people with empathy and compassion. Even with ACE and psychic scars people can triumph over the adversity. You can have a good life even with your past scars. A nice article in the Fix expounds on these ideas. (3)
1) The enduring effects of abuse and related adverse experiences in childhood, Anda et.al. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3232061/
2) How Childhood Trauma May Make the Brain Vulnerable to Addiction, Depression, By Maia Szalavitz http://healthland.time.com/2012/08/01/how-childhood-trauma-may-make-the-brain-vulnerable-to-addiction-depression/
3) How Childhood Trauma Creates Life-long Adult Addicts, By Maia Szalavitz, https://www.thefix.com/content/trauma-and-addiction9180
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