The Role Childhood Abuse Plays In Addiction

Child abuse has a proven connection to future drug abuse and addiction, a problem that impacts millions of people every year. If you are suffering from addiction, it’s worth exploring your past and gauging whether or not you suffered from abuse. It can help you get a feel for where addiction originates and how it can be rooted out from your life.

Understanding Child Abuse

When people hear the term “child abuse,” they likely think of a parent hitting a child or spanking them excessively. While that’s definitely part of the physical aspect of child abuse, it’s not the only part. This is important for you to understand, as you may have been abused without even knowing it. You should also know that child abuse doesn’t necessarily have to come from the parent to qualify as abuse. Child abuse is typically broken down into four types:

  • Physical abuse – As mentioned above, physical abuse can consist of hitting or spanking a child. However, these aren’t the only ways that children are physically abused. They may be hit with sticks, burned, thrown downstairs, cut with knives, or otherwise injured.
  • Neglect – If you were left home alone from a very young age, were ignored or had basic needs denied to you, you were a victim of neglect. Neglect is hard for many children to handle, especially if their parents do show signs of positive reinforcement and love when they aren’t being neglectful.
  • Psychological abuse – Words hurt, especially when they come from parents or other authority figures we love unconditionally. Even if you were never physically hurt, being called “stupid” or “fat” or being described and treated in negative ways creates psychological abuse. Typically, physical abuse and neglect also create symptoms of psychological abuse.
  • Sexual abuse – This type of abuse is perhaps the worst because it includes physical, psychological and sometimes even neglectful abuse. Children who are sexually abused aren’t always abused by their parents, but their parents may have neglectfully put them in a situation where it occurred, ignored the child’s complaints, or looked the other way when it happened.

If any of these descriptions were accurate to the way you were treated as a child, there’s a good chance you were abused. The shocking truth is that new cases of child abuse are reported every 10 seconds across the country: and those are just the reported cases. Take solace in the fact that you aren’t alone and that there is help for you.

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Child Abuse Creates Severe Trauma

It’s impossible to understand the effect that childhood abuse has on addiction without knowing how it impacts the child. The sad truth is that abuse causes extreme feelings of trauma in children that don’t just verge on post-traumatic stress disorder but fall into their own unique version of it. The most immediate impact that childhood abuse has on children is the creation of a sense of severe shame.

This idea is borne out in the paper “Predicting PTSD Symptoms In Victims Of Violent Crime: The Role Of Shame, Anger, and Childhood Abuse,” which reaches a simple and direct conclusion: “The results suggest that both shame and anger play an important role in the phenomenology of crime-related PTSD and that shame makes a contribution to the subsequent course of symptoms. The findings are also consistent with previous evidence for the role of shame as a mediator between childhood abuse and adult psychopathology.”

In other words, children who are abused fall into a state of post-traumatic stress disorder which may be severe enough to lead to serious psychopathic problems in their future. This is heart-wrenching stuff to read, but it’s even harder when reading the results of a study published in Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences, which stated “….abused children who develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may experience a biologically distinct form of the disorder from PTSD caused by other types of trauma later in life.”

Without getting into too much detail, the study found that abused children didn’t just suffer from physical and psychological problems, but were actually changed on a chemical and even genetic level. These changes negatively impacted the way that the child developed later in life, interfering with their cognitive development and potentially causing problems as diverse as depression, anxiety disorders, and even schizophrenia.

What’s truly scary about these findings is that these genetic changes were often permanent in children. All trauma causes some form of genetic change, according to the study, but in older adults, those changes are temporarily and easily fixed. It truly hurts to read this information, but it does explain why so many abused children fall victim to drug addiction later in life.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder May Lead To Addiction

While many children are given the helping hand they need to recover from post-traumatic stress disorder, others aren’t so lucky. This is a major problem because this condition can quickly deteriorate and cause increasing disorders in a person’s life. Post-traumatic stress disorder causes a variety of reactions, including anxiety, depression, nightmares, a sense of being “under attack” at all times, thoughts of hopelessness and the idea that you are worthless.

Children suffering under these feelings don’t have the coping mechanisms that adults have later in life. They’ve yet to understand the joyful reality that our destinies are in our own hands and that they can positively change their lives. As a result, many of these children later turn to drugs and alcohol to alleviate their symptoms. Statistics and various studies back up this unfortunate truth.

“The Role of Uncontrollable Trauma in the Development of PTSD and Alcohol Addiction” by Dr.Joseph Volpicelli, Dr. Donald Bux, and others, found that post-traumatic stress disorder raised the risk of later substance abuse by as much as 20 percent. They also found that women with post-traumatic stress disorder were much more likely to abuse drugs, with 30 percent to 57 percent suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder alongside addiction.

Treating post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms with drugs and alcohol is an understandable temptation. After all, these substances relieve (if only temporarily) feelings of pain and put you in a state where you don’t have to worry about your problems. Unfortunately, substance abuse and addiction is a trap that will only further disrupt your life. It will further worsen your symptoms of trauma, leading to more problems later.

Sadly, this is why addiction and abuse are both so commonly passed on to future generations. A parent who hasn’t dealt with the trauma of their own abuse treats it with drugs and alcohol. As a result, they develop abusive tendencies that cause problems for their own children. And unless a parent is a psychopath, none of them enjoy abusing their children. As a result, they are feeding into their own feelings of trauma and worthlessness, further worsening the condition.

Thankfully, Treatment Is Possible

If you have suffered from the type of childhood abuse listed above, believe you have post-traumatic stress disorder and are also suffering from addiction, you can escape these problems. Your past defines you, it’s true, but you are also an intelligent adult who is fully in charge of your destiny. Getting treatment for your addiction will require treating both of the problems that trauma causes.

This is known as “dual diagnosis,” as it treats mental health problems and addiction at the same time. We’ve talked about this treatment method before, but that’s only because it’s so effective in treating co-occurring disorders. You will basically go through two different processes: treatment for your abuse trauma and addiction recovery. The two treatments, occurring simultaneously, will influence one another in positive ways. A typical treatment method will follow this guideline:

  1. Checking in at a rehab center – Here, your condition will be gauged by experts and a treatment method will be decided upon.
  2. Withdrawal treatment – Quitting drugs is a physically painful cycle, but withdrawal treatment will minimize its effects.
  3. Physical health treatment – Any physical health problems, such as pain or malnutrition, caused by your addiction will be carefully treated.
  4. Psychological assessment – Here, you and your counselor will dive into your mind and find where you are suffering. Then, you’ll work together to soothe that pain and find coping mechanisms that minimize your trauma.
  5. Behavioral adjustments – Addiction is often a cycle of negative behavior patterns, so adjusting those behaviors (and negative thought processes) can help you stop a relapse.
  6. Abuse education – Learn more about abuse and its impact on your life to understand why your recovery is so important.
  7. Aftercare methods – Many people need continued outpatient care and time in a halfway house to fully recover from addiction. Others will need ongoing psychological treatment for their trauma. Fighting addiction lasts the rest of your life and aftercare techniques support you in the trenches of this tough war.

Your exact treatment will vary, depending on your needs and desires. For example, you might be able to integrate meditation and spiritual elements into your recovery, or even family counseling. For people who’ve suffered from childhood abuse, talking with parents is often a great way to make peace with that past. Talking with your children is also key if they suffered from any abuse at your doing or if they are simply concerned about your well-being.

Break The Cycle Today

The sad truth about addiction and child abuse is that they often create a cycle that affects generations in a single-family. An abusive father might cause his son to turn to drugs later in life. Then, when he has children, his addiction and abuse trauma might compel him to abuse his own children. At some point, this cycle of trauma and addiction needs to be broken.

We’re here to tell you that it’s possible to break it and to help you do it. At Vertava Health MS, we have a variety of addiction experts who will help you beat addiction and give your children the kind of lives you want them to have. In this way, you can get back on your feet and become an amazing and sober parent.