Mon. Jan 24th, 2022

Trauma and Addiction: Understanding the Connection

As the years continue to go by, addiction research takes place that creates an accumulation of information. The goal is to have a better understanding of addiction, hoping to find the answers to help individuals with addictive tendencies as well as avoid addiction. The main focus of most research is the development of addiction knowledge as well as susceptibility. Studies have approached these categories in the hopes of finding variables that could be the reason for the development of addiction based on various angles.

Finding a connection or even a casual relationship between addiction and the social, biological or experiential circumstances of an individual would help to work on the issue of addiction. The circumstances and experiences of a child can shape their development physically as well as mentally, so researchers are working to find a role that such experiences can play in a person becoming an addict as an adult.

Childhood Trauma and Neurological Anomalies

Childhood trauma and being susceptible to addiction as an adult have a relationship. Learning more about how an experience can influence the development of the brain can help you to better understand this relationship. The brain has the ability to respond and adapt to stimulation of the environment, a circumstance known as plasticity.

As the brain grows and matures in the childhood years, it begins to create, neural connections as well as strengthen and even discard such connections. This creates a network between neurons that provide the brain with functions. The experiences that one encounters as a child will affect the development of the brain, similarly to how we learn to speak or walk. Certain synapses will develop, grow stronger or break.

Basically, as the brain grows, physical structure is affected by the experiences one has as a child, the negative and the positive. Most experiences will lead to a beneficial development of the brain, but there will also be experiences that lead to a negative impact on the brain.

A negative experience in childhood maltreatment is believed to be the trigger behind certain anomalies in the structure of the brain that can result in cognitive behavioral issues as well as impairments socially. Individuals who suffered from childhood maltreatment were found to have experienced frequent levels of high stress that was extreme that led to an impediment of normal brain development, in studies.

With continuous stress due to maltreatment, responses of physiological stress are caused that create structural disruptions over time. In a study, such disruptions were observed via neurological scans that likely made victims of trauma in their childhood susceptible to disorders of substance abuse as an adult.

Advances in Neuroscience for Trauma and Addiction

Over the past few years, advances in neuroscience have been able to provide a better picture as to how trauma and addiction are related. During childhood trauma, the threat detection center of the brain known as the amygdala will be engaged constantly, looking for threats and assessing the situation. This can cause an individual to continually feel anxious, fearful or vulnerable.

At the same time, the area of the brain that processes memories, the hippocampus, will be under active. Instead of placing your memories within the outer layer of the brain to provide long-term storage, memories will be stuck in a loop during the present day. The result is that the individual will experience recollections that are uncomfortable and disturbing. The individual will then turn to alcohol or drugs to be able to forget such memories.

The main controller of the brain is the cortex and due to trauma, it will be interrupted by instincts of survival from deep within the brain. The instincts will then overrule any logical output which will decrease your ability to stop certain behaviors. Even if you try to avoid addictive behavior, you will be unable to stop the urge to do so.

Emotional Trauma and Addiction

Several studies have been attributed to the relationship revolving around childhood trauma and addiction with the disruption of the structure of the brain due to stress from trauma. There have also been other explanations provided. A study known as Adverse Childhood Experiences took place involving 17,000 patients of Kaiser Permanente. During their childhood, the patients had experienced various experiences that created stress. Those experiences were linked to impulse control disorders as well as substance abuse.

For the most part, individuals will associate childhood trauma with abuse. However, there are other experiences that can create stress and can be linked to addiction. This can include neglect, parent loss, witnessing domestic violence or other physical violent acts as well as dealing with a family member with a mental illness at a young age.

Individuals who have such experiences as a child have shown to have an increased tendency to use alcohol and drugs. These individuals can also have addictions involving behavior which can include sexual behavior as well as compulsive eating.

In most instances, a situation is much more traumatic for a child when compared to the same incident happening to an adult. There are key reasons why the experience will have a more significant impact on a child and a lasting effect. One must remember that a child is limited in their ability to make a reference contextually that allows them to process a situation effectively. This makes the effect of the trauma hang on longer than it would with an adult.

Children also rely on their loved ones for support and comfort. When a child is subject to neglect, abuse or other trauma by the ones they look to for support, it creates a negative outcome. To be able to self-medicate, the individual will turn to drugs or alcohol. The goal is to use the substances as a way to alleviate the effects of the victimization from an early age.

It can also be said that adults will begin to abuse substances due to what they saw as a child. If a child witnesses their parents abusing drugs or alcohol, they can also go down the same path. The tendency to choose to self-medicate can be modeled after the behavior of the parents…

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