Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Link Between Trauma and Substance Abuse

Did you know that substance abuse is often linked to emotional trauma? 
Since the 1970’s professional therapists have acknowledged that trauma is often the culprit in the development of substance abuse disorders. These traumas can include one or more of the following:  childhood neglect, physical, sexual or emotional abuse; it has been proven that these traumas are often the main factor in the development of substance abuse disorders.  Abuse is also often the culprit for anxiety disorders, depression and suicide.
Scientific studies have found that children who are consistently subjected to stress and trauma are wired differently than children who live and are raised in a safe secure environment. But how is trauma detrimental to the development of a child?  When stress or threat occurs, the individual’s body responds with a “fight or flight” reaction.  The powerful hormone cortisol is released, and although it is important and can be a protection device in emergencies, if chronic stress occurs, the levels become toxic and the cortisol damages and kill neurons that are present in crucial parts of the brain.  Hyperarousal, which causes an elevated heart rate, body temperature, and continuous angst, are continually present in the person’s life.  An internal reaction is that the child disassociates, shutting down, and detaching from emotions and feelings in order to adapt.  The younger the child, the more likely they are to suffer from posttraumatic stress. This takes place due to the fact that they are helpless to be able to fight or flee.  A state of helplessness becomes a learned response to life and the effects will reverberate throughout the child’s development unless treated.

Did you know that abuse of any kind in the general population is reported to be 8.4%?  In an alcoholic home the rate of reported abuse is 24% for men and 33% for women.  Sexual abuse in the general public is reported to be right around 6%; however, in an alcoholic home the percentage jumps to 12% for men and 49% for women.  The rates for emotional abuse in a home where substance abuse is prevalent compare to the sexual abuse cases, and the long-term repercussions can include depression, anxiety, suicide and problems adjusting in society.
Data collected through the Adverse Childhood Experience study, show that kids that encounter severe childhood stress, are 5 times more liable to become addicted than children who do not encounter these stressors.  Scientists have found that cumulative traumas are the most destructive, and the worst of these is constant ridicule.

Because of the traumas, an individual may suffer with feelings of helplessness and anxiety which can create a constant struggle with depression and impulsive or addictive behaviors.  These addictive behaviors are used to manage or numb the feelings of hopelessness and depression or unwelcome invasive memories.  Dampening the feelings of anger, guilt or other strong emotions as well as acquiring the sense of being in control or relaxed come about with the use of alcohol or drugs. 

Other substance abusers become the family pod because they accept and exhibit the same problematic patterns and behaviors.
People can go for years without having any or very little memory of traumatic experiences. It may not be until they are well into their 30’s, 40’s or 50’s before they realize that the coping mechanisms they have been using to deal with the traumas that they sustained are no longer working. Often it isn’t until disruptive patterns in their relationships and professional lives come forward that they begin to realize that problems exist.

It is imperative that treatment professionals recognize the frequency of trauma among people with addictions.  They must provide a multidisciplinary treatment that has proven effective.  Not all therapists have the skills needed to deal with the twin wounds of trauma and addiction.
If you or someone you love suffers from an addiction, please contact us today.  We can help.

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