The Connection Between Childhood Trauma and Addiction

Addiction is a disease that can affect anyone from any walk of life. Drug abuse can completely change how a person thinks and behaves. A person’s entire life can become consumed by the idea of using drugs and relieving their stresses or pains. This leads to the question – what makes some people more vulnerable to addiction than others? Research suggests that there is a definite connection between childhood trauma and addiction (among other traumatic experiences). 

Several different factors can contribute to someone having a higher chance of drug use and addiction. These could be biological or social reasons. When it comes to trauma or abuse during a person’s childhood, there is a direct relationship between childhood trauma and addiction. These childhood experiences can affect someone’s thought processes and life in adulthood. 

Unfortunately, there are cases where a person is more vulnerable to addiction due to reasons that are no fault of their own. With this in mind, it is never too late to turn your life around. People may turn to alcohol or drugs for a variety of different reasons. With this in mind, nothing should hold you back from living a better, healthier life in adulthood. Start your journey at North Jersey Recovery Center today!

The Impact of Negative Experiences on Brain Development

Your past experiences can have a huge impact on your brain development and thought processes as you mature. Certain events like childhood trauma can negatively affect how your brain grows. The brain has an innate feature (plasticity) that responds and adapts to the environment around you. Over time the brain begins to strengthen and create neural connections. Our experiences as children or adults affect how we develop (similar to how we learn to talk or walk). 

When a person experiences childhood trauma this can lead to an intense level of stress, which affects the brain’s growth. As this maltreatment continues so do the negative effects on the brain. This can eventually lead to a person developing structural problems in the brain. This creates a direct connection between childhood trauma and addiction in the long run. The brain can be affected to the point where you can physically see the results in a neurological scan. 

The Effect of Childhood Trauma and Addiction in Adulthood

Structural disruptions in the brain create a definite connection between childhood trauma and addiction later on in life. These stressful experiences can result in a person turning to drugs or alcohol (oftentimes making them much more susceptible to addiction). Certain events can be especially stressful and traumatic for children, sometimes the person doesn’t know how to cope with these feelings (especially if they have no guidance or help). 

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Childhood trauma comes in a variety of forms and doesn’t necessarily have to be child abuse. Several different events can cause distress and pain in a child’s mind and life. This can fester and become an addiction down the line in some cases. Some of the most common forms of childhood trauma include:

  • Child neglect
  • Witnessing domestic abuse (parent or guardian)
  • Witnessing physical violence or an intense accident
  • Death of a loved one (especially parents or close relatives)
  • Living in a household with a parent/guardian suffering from a mental illness

These events and other traumatic experiences can increase a person’s vulnerability to drug use and addiction. Additionally, a person also has a higher chance of developing eating disorders or compulsive sexual behaviors. Unfortunately, childhood trauma and addiction is a reality for many people who’ve dealt with these childhood experiences. 

How Does Childhood Trauma Lead to Substance Abuse?

When a child initially experiences these traumatic experiences they are unable to process it as an adult would. This can make these events much more traumatic and scarring. At this stage, the brain is still developing and has a limited perspective of the world. This makes it much more difficult to interpret these events as a child. Unfortunately, this can fester over time and cause serious stress in adulthood. 

Oftentimes, a person may turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with the stresses of these past events. People may look at drugs as a way to self-medicate or to ease the effects of these past traumas. However, more problems end up emerging as a person continues using drugs or drinking. This is what makes childhood trauma and addiction so intertwined. 

On top of these vulnerable states is the habits of substance abuse being passed onto children. At an early age, children may mirror their parents through drug use. This can develop into a full-blown addiction when they enter adulthood. While a person has no say in their past they can make a change in the present. It is never too late to get professional help

A Closer Look at Substance Abuse and Addiction

Childhood trauma and addiction are a combination that can create a vicious cycle of drug use and substance abuse. Addiction has the power to destroy relationships, health, opportunities, and lives. It will also have an impact on a person’s body and mind to the point where it becomes almost impossible to stop using. 

Over time people may become dependent on certain drugs. This occurs when a person experiences withdrawal symptoms when not using. Combining negative traumatic thoughts with drug use makes substance abuse a necessity for some people. This ends up leading to worse effects and ruined lives. Some of the commonly abused substances include:

These drugs can impair a person and cause social, physical, financial, and relationship problems. Some of these substances can have fatal effects if a person is not careful about the amount they are using (overdose or permanent damage).

Symptoms and Signs of Drug Addiction

Childhood trauma and addiction can be a problematic mix and can lead a person down a road of stress, pain, and physical issues. There are several symptoms and red flags that can indicate a deeper problem. It’s imperative that you keep these in mind if you suspect a loved one is dealing with drug addiction.

  • Lack of motivation
  • Risky and unnatural behavior
  • Stealing or borrowing money to acquire the drug
  • Changing personal appearance/personality
  • Financial, relationship, and social problems
  • Losing interest in activities they used to enjoy
  • Spending time trying to acquire, use, or recover from drug use
  • Negatively impacted hygiene and personal health
  • Combining medication with other drugs/alcohol

In addition to these signs are the physical effects of withdrawal and extended drug use. These symptoms vary depending on the drug and can be potentially dangerous/deadly. Don’t wait to reach out for help.

Treatment for Childhood Trauma and Drug Addiction

Treating childhood trauma and addiction typically requires personalized therapy. With this in mind, it is crucial to the treatment process to know about these events beforehand. This way our team can help focus on childhood trauma and addiction treatment. One of the fundamental parts of therapy is pinpointing the childhood trauma and attempting to come to terms with a person’s feelings while helping to cope with them.

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With addiction, detox and medication are typically the first steps. Detox helps relieve some of the withdrawal symptoms when a person stops using a drug. Medication can also be used to help in this process, also throughout treatment. Depending on the severity of the addiction a person may need to stay in a facility through residential/inpatient treatment. For milder cases of addiction, outpatient treatment may be an option. 

Therapy for Childhood Trauma and Addiction 

Therapy is necessary for addressing childhood trauma and substance abuse. Many people don’t realize the impact that sorting through negative thoughts and traumas can have. Changing your mindset and learning the proper skills to combat stress can do wonders for a person’s addiction and mental struggles.  

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most commonly used forms of therapy for childhood trauma and addiction. The main goal of CBT is to change a person’s thought processes and behaviors (in a more positive way). Understanding and evaluating a person’s thoughts is essential to changing a person’s mindset and future goals. CBT can be used for the side of the problem (past trauma and addiction). Additionally, there are also group therapy and family therapy options available. 

Start Your Journey Towards Recovery at NJRC

With the many options available to you and your family, your journey is just one step away. At North Jersey Recovery Center, we understand the terrible impact that substance abuse and trauma can have on a person. We take all your concerns and needs very seriously when helping you towards recovery.

No matter how bad your past may seem, there is always an opportunity to turn things around for the better. Let North Jersey Recovery Center guide you towards a brighter, healthy future. Contact us today to learn more about our services and addiction treatment options.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Laura Riley

Laura-Riley-Cropped-Profile-150x150Laura Riley, MA, LCADC, CCS is an Administrator with North Jersey Recovery Center.