Tag Archives: Childhood Trauma And Addiction

Childhood Trauma Leading To The Need To ‘Self-Medicate’.

self medication

Until a few years ago I consumed excessive amounts of alcohol (leading to some appalling consequences that I will describe in future posts). Two main reasons for this most ill-advised and, above all, desperate behaviour are both clichés: one: I drank to reduce my social anxiety and, two: I drank to numb my intense and intolerable psychological pain.

The root cause of my social anxiety and psychological pain derived, I feel sure, from my traumatic childhood. Indeed, such childhood trauma is very often the root cause of why people in general use alcohol, and other psychoactive substances such as illicit drugs, to self-medicate (ie. attempt to ameliorate their emotional and psychological pain).

A main reason that many find it so hard to stop or reduce their reliance on such self-medication is that they are unaware that the origin of their addictive need to self-medicate lies in their traumatic childhood experiences and that the adverse psychological consequences which they seek to numb by excessive drinking or drug taking are symptoms of this trauma.

This lack of insight leads to the root cause of the particular addiction remaining untreated, making it much harder for the individual to recover from his/her reliance on mind-altering substances.

Very sadly, other people, perhaps ill-informed family members, who also are unaware of the true origins of the problem, may, due to their lack of understanding, blame the individual for his/her, as they may erroneously perceive it, ‘weakness of character’ and ‘selfishness’ (it is not selfishness – being addicted to, for example, alcohol is hardly fun or enjoyable; one does not choose to suffer from such an addiction, by definition).

self medication

Equally sadly, the addict may blame him/herself, adding to his/her depression and worsening yet further his/her already extremely low self-esteem, thus, in all likelihood, aggravating still further his/her addictive disorder.

Whilst the afflicted individual may sometimes enter stages of incipient recovery, if his/her childhood trauma remains therapeutically unaddressed, s/he is likely to relapse when events in his/her life trigger traumatic memories and flashbacks.

It is useful to provide some statistics in connection with the idea of childhood trauma leading to self-medication as an adult: for example, intravenous drug users are 1000% (one thousand per cent) more likely to have suffered childhood trauma than non-intravenous drug users. A second example is that (in the USA) female alcoholics are twice as likely to have suffered significant trauma compared to their non-alcoholic counterparts.

The Role Of Adrenaline:

Those suffering from the effects of severe trauma, such as those who have been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), have been found to produce in their bodies excessive quantities of the hormone adrenaline which significantly contributes to their feelings of deep anxiety and general psychological distress.

It is hardly a coincidence, then, that one of the illicit drugs they can become dependent upon is heroin as this drug is highly effective at shutting down the brain’s adrenaline center – the locus coeruleus.

Other drugs that have a similar effect are Valium, alcohol and benzodiazepines (the latter is a drug which played a role in the shamelessly hounded and persecuted musical genius Michael Jackson’s tragic and untimely death – it is well documented that he was traumatized by his childhood, not least because his father, Joe Jackson, would allegedly whip his son if he made mistakes during rehearsals when he rehearsed with his older brothers who made up the Jackson Five).

Conclusion:

Therapies for those who have experienced significant childhood trauma and are consequently addicted to the sort of substances referred to above are far more likely to be successful if they do not ignore the root cause of the problem – namely the afflicted individual’s childhood traumatic experiences.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

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Addressing Childhood Trauma To Treat Addictions

 

Addicts, sadly, are too frequently blamed for not being able to overcome their addictions; however, this can be based on the misunderstanding that the addict must be hedonistic. This, though, is to miss the point.

The addict is not so much seeking pleasure but, rather, is desperately seeking relief from intolerable emotional pain (dissociating). In other words, the addict is self – anesthetizing.

Very frequently, the unendurable mental anguish that the addict feels stems from their childhood trauma.

Internal versus external coping mechanisms:

It is necessary for the addict to stop relying on external coping mechanisms (such as alcohol and drugs) to cope with their psychological pain but instead cultivate internal coping mechanisms such as:

– learning how to self-sooth

– using visualization techniques (such as visualizing a safe place whenever, for example, an incident occurs which triggers anxieties linked to their childhood trauma).

Survivor versus victim:

If no therapeutic work has taken place in order to help the addict resolve the feelings associated with his/her childhood trauma, s/he is likely to remain trapped in the role of victim (in effect, their psychological and emotional development is arrested at the time of the trauma).

However, when therapy begins it can help the addict develop an alternative view of him/herself – that of a brave and strong survivor.

The kinds of childhood trauma that are particularly likely to cause symptoms such as addictions and arrested psychological and emotional development include:

abandonment

rejection

– being treated with contempt/disdain (eg always being on the receiving end of ‘put downs’ by a parent/parents/primary caregiver)

– sexual and physical abuse

– verbal and emotional abuse

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Such treatment frequently causes the child to develop what psychologists refer to as a negative cognitive triad, ie:

– a negative view of self

– a negative view of others

– a negative view of the future

In the absence of effective therapeutic intervention, these negative attitudes may endure for a lifetime.

Other symptoms the individual who suffered childhood trauma may develop are:

– a deep and abiding sense of alienation from others/society

– avoidant behavior, including fear of intimacy (due to fears of being vulnerable to rejection if s/he gets too emotionally close to others).

– an irrational sense of shame

– self – destructive behaviour

When talking to a mental health-care clinician about one’s experience of childhood trauma, it is very important to provide the following details:

– age at time of trauma

– severity of trauma

– who committed the abuse eg.  stranger, family member (more harmful if family member)

– was it a single incident or ongoing?

– was thethe event/ act/s intentional or accidentalaccidental?

– was escape possible?

– what was the level of severity?

– was the trauma response one of flight, fight or freeze?

Resources:

hypnosis_for_addiction   Addiction Help (Many addictions addressed)

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

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The Link Between Childhood Trauma And Addiction.

 

We have seen in other articles that I have published on this site that those of us who have suffered significant childhood trauma are more likely than others to develop addictions (often multiple addictions) during our teens and adulthood. Why should this be?

Condition One:  A solitary rat in an impoverished environment (ie. one in which there is no stimulation, just an empty cage).

Condition Two: The rat has the company of other rats and has an enriched (ie stimulating) environment

 

Results:

– In condition one rats became extremely addicted to the cocaine, becoming heavily addicted

– In condition two rats ingested far less cocaine (75% less) and did not become addicted

(The psychologist, Professor Bruce Alexander, pioneered these studies).

If we extrapolate from this research (ie apply it to humans) it would be expected that :

Individuals with empty, lonely lives are significantly more likely to become addicts than individuals with full and socially integrated lived. Indeed, there is much research evidence to support this view and a growing school of thought is of the view that a person’s life situation plays a more important role in an individuals addiction than the addictive substance itself.

Implications:

It is likely, then, that a person’s life circumstances play a vital role in whether or not a person becomes an addict. Therefore, it follows that the most effective way to reduce addiction is to help addicts re-connect with society and gain dependable social support.

Because those who have suffered childhood trauma are more likely to develop chaotic, disenfranchised lives as adults, as many of the articles on this site have shown, such people are at greater risk than others of living in the kind of social isolation which fosters drug addiction.

Resources:

addiction_help    Addiction Help.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Anxiety Disorders : The Role of Childhood Trauma

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It is not at all uncommon for those who have experienced significant childhood trauma to develop anxiety disorders as a result. Anxiety disorders include :

1) Generalized anxiety disorder – persistent and intense worry that lasts for at least six months and can relate to a broad range of concerns

2) Agoraphobia – fear of situations in which it would be difficult or embarrassing to get away/escape – often, the sufferer fears having a panic attack in such a situation

3) Panic disorder –  the sufferer experiences frequent panic attacks and is preoccupied with the fear of such attacks occurring

4) Phobias – these can be split up into two categories : a) specific phobia and b) social phobia :

a) Specific phobia – fear of a particular situation or object which causes significant, irrational anxiety

b) Social phobia – excessive fear of interacting with others (click here to read my article on this)

5) Obsessive-compulsive disorder(OCD)click here to read my article on this

6) Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)click here to read my article on this

SOME FEATURES OF ANXIETY :

The experience of anxiety includes both physical and psychological features, examples of which I provide below :

PHYSICAL – increased heart rate ; rapid and shallow breathing (this actually worsens anxiety – if we find ourselves breathing in this way, slowing down the breathing and breathing more deeply often proves helpful) ; a feeling of an urgent need to protect ourselves

PSYCHOLOGICAL – a feeling of being threatened (although it may not be possible for us to pinpoint the source of such threat) ; a feeling of impending doom and disaster ; if we are not sure what is causing these feelings, it is hard to find a solution and bring them to an end, meaning the anxieyt can  last for an indeterminate length of time if treatment is not sought (cognitive behavioural therapy can be an effective treatment – click here to read my article on this)

THE VICIOUS CIRCLE OF ANXIETY :

The diagram below shows how anxiety can create a vicious circle from which it can be hard to break free :

CAUSES OF ANXIETY :

The following factors make it more likely we will suffer an anxiety disorder :

1) Significant childhood trauma – severe stress in early life can actually damage the way the brain physically develops in such a way that we become much more susceptible to the effects of stress in our adult lives than we otherwise would have been (click here to read my article about how this damage to the physical development of the brain can occur)

2) Experiences in later life – if we have suffered childhood trauma we are often less able to function as an adult (for example, we may have problems with maintaining relationships, or develop addictions, or find ourselves frequently in conflict with others due to difficulties managing anger)

This can lead to further stress which, in turn, increases our chances of developing an anxiety disorder.

Click here to read my article about the negative knock-on effects to our adult lives can result from having experienced childhood trauma.

3) Genes – if we have anxious parents we may inherit genes from them which make us more susceptible to developing anxiety ourselves.

Also, if we had anxious parents as we grew up, our environment is more likely to have been stressful, and, furthermore, we may have ‘learned‘ anxious behaviour due to a psychological process known as ‘modelling.’

4) Our ‘thinking style’ – those of us who are prone to negative thinking, perhaps due to depression, are more likely to suffer from anxiety.

For example, we may be prone to what psychologists refer to as ‘catastrophizing‘(this means we are prone to perceiving events far more negatively than is objectively justifiable and underestimating our ability to cope).

If we had negative parents, we may have ‘learned’ our negative way of thinking from them by the process of modelling referred to above. CLICK HERE to read my article on ways we can overcome our negative thinking style.

5) How our brain is ‘wired up’ – if we have suffered childhood trauma, our brain development may have been adversely affected, leading to it to become ‘wired up’ differently than the brains of individuals whose childhood was relatively stable.

Such disrupted brain wiring can make us much more predisposed to developing an anxiety disorder than average. CLICK HERE to read one of my articles about how childhood trauma can affect brain development.

CONCLUSION :

The more of the above factors that apply to us, the greater is our vulnerability to developing an anxiety disorder.

RESOURCES :

MP3s :

OVERCOME FEAR AND ANXIETY MP3 – CLICK HERE

 

 

HELPGUIDE.ORG – REDUCING STRESS

 

EBOOKS :

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Above e-book now available from Amazon for immediate download. $4.99 CLICK HERE

Other titles also available.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

 

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Childhood Trauma Leading to Addiction – The Signs

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I have discussed, in other articles, how the experience of severe childhood trauma can lead us to have a powerful need to dissociate’(‘mentally escape’) from painful reality in adulthood (click here to read my article on dissociation). One of the main ways in which individuals attempt to do this is via an array of possible addictions.

In this article I want to look at :

1) The types of substances/activities/behaviours individuals most frequently develop an addiction to (and it is worth noting that most people with one addiction will also have at least one other addiction).

2) The signs that a person may be addicted to a particular substance/activity/behaviour.

So, let’s begin :

1) A list of the types of substances/activities/behaviours individuals most frequently develop an addiction to :

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– alcohol

– street drugs

– prescription drugs (both legally and illegally obtained)

– sex/pornography

– spending

– gambling

– power

– relationships

– caffeine

– nicotine

– danger (eg dangerous sports)

– fast driving (eg joy riding)

– exercise

– reading

– watching television

– playing computer games

– social networking/chat rooms

– power

– work

– cults

– stress

Of course, many of these are harmless or beneficial in moderation, so at what point would a clinician be inclined to diagnose an unhealthy dependence on, or addiction to, the substances/activities/behaviours listed above?

The criteria listed below are generally used as a guide as to whether or not a person has an addiction to a substance/activity/behaviour (I will call this ‘x’).

a) is the person preoccupied with x?

b) does the person experience a loss of personal control in relation to x?

c) does the person suffer from withdrawal effects if s/he has to go without x?

d) does the person try to hide his/her dependence upon x from others?

e) does increased tolerance of x lead to an increasingly growing need for more and more of it?

f) does the individual seem to be ‘in denial’ in relation to his/her problem in connection with x?

g) does the person have rigid views in relation to x (eg completely dismissing the concerns of others about his/her dependence upon it).

h) does the individual blame others for his/her need of x? (eg says that others drive him/her to it).

i) does the person suffer from blackouts related to x?

j) does the person have physical problems relating to x (eg weight loss, shaking etc)?

k) does the person seem to be suffering from mood swings or personality changes connected to his/her dependence on x?

l) does the individual seem to be losing his/her sense of personal values because of x (eg putting x before needs of family)?

Clearly, different types of addiction will lead to different types of problems featured on the above list; however, in general, the more of the above problems a person has, and the more intense they are, the more serious the particular addiction or addictions.

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The diagram above shows a typical addiction cycle which can underpin all addictions.

THE TWO COMPONENTS OF ADDICTION :

Addictions tend to comprise two main components :

COMPONENT 1 – biological/physical

COMPONENT 2 – social/emotional

Examples of when the biological/physical component plays a part in addiction :

ALCOHOLISM:

Research suggests that there is a genetic component to alcoholism that causes the individual to metabolize alcohol in a different way to how ‘normal’ drinkers metabolize it – it is thought that, in alcoholics, the intake of alcohol leads to the production of an opiate-like substance in the brain. It is believed that it is this opiate production to which the alcoholic becomes addicted.

‘LOVE ADDICTION’ :

Neurological research suggests that in certain individuals the act of ‘falling in love’ produces far greater quantities of a particular neurotransmitter in the brain than it does in ‘normal’ individuals. It seems that this particular neurotransmitter, in high quantities, produces intense feelings of euphoria.

Unfortunately, however, this very pleasurable mental state soon begins to fade.

It is therefore hypothesized that individuals who produce these large quantities of the neurotransmitter may become addicted to repeating the euphoric high which comes from forming new, intimate relationships. Because of this, they may have frequent, short-term relationships and find it very hard to stay faithful to one partner.

Examples of when the social/emotional component plays a part in the addiction :

The emotional/social component, in fact, seems to play a part in all addictions, irrespective of the biological/physical processes involved. I list below the various aspects of the emotional/social component that addictions may lead to :

– temporary reduction in level of anxiety/stress

– temporary feeling of well-being

– avoidance of ‘real’ feelings

– avoidance of dealing with vital life problems

Whilst addictions offer temporary relief, they serve only to compound our problems over the long-term. For example, drinking a lot, or going on an over-spending spree, may provide a short lived ‘high’ but this is soon replaced by feelings of guilt, shame, emptiness, despair, anxiety and depression.

 

RESOURCES :

ADDICTION HELP – click here

 

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

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Link Between Childhood Trauma and Drug/Alcohol Addiction – Infographic.

THE LINK BETWEEN SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND CHILDHOOD TRAUMA INFOGRAPHIC.

I have already written an article about the link between childhood trauma and the later development of alcoholism. Below is a graph which visually illustrates this link, together with one illustrating the link to drug addiction. As can be seen, the greater the number of traumatic childhood experiences (represented along the x-axis), the more likely a person is to suffer from substance abuse/addiction later on in life.

CLICK HERE for hypnotherapy download to alleviate symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

link between childhood trauma and substance abuse

link between childhood trauma and substance abuse

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Childhood Trauma: Its Relationship to Psychopathy.

 

The term ‘psychopath’ is often used by the tabloid press. In fact, the diagnosis of ‘psychopath’ is no longer given – instead, the term ‘anti-social personality disorder’ is generally used.

When the word ‘psychopath’ is employed by the press, it tends to be used for its ‘sensational’ value to refer to a cold-blooded killer who may (or may not) have a diagnosis of mental illness. It is very important to point out, however, that it is extremely rare for a person who is suffering from mental illness to commit a murder; someone suffering from very acute paranoid schizophrenia may have a delusional belief that others are a great danger to him/her (this might involve, say, terryfying hallucinations) and kill in response to that – I repeat, though, such events are very rare indeed: mentally ill people are far more likely to be a threat to themselves than to others (eg through self-harming, substance abuse or suicidal behaviours).

The word psychopath actually derives from Greek:

psych = mind

pathos = suffering

Someone who is a ‘psychopath’ (ie has been diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder) needs to fulfil the following criteria:

– inability to feel guilt or remorse
– lack of empathy
– shallow emotions
– inability to learn from experience in relation to dysfunctional behaviour

Often, psychopaths will possess considerable charisma, intelligence and charm; however, they will also be dishonest, manipulative and bullying, prepared to employ violence in order to achieve their aims.

As ‘psychopaths’ reach middle-age, fewer and fewer of them remain at large in society due to the fact that by this time they are normally incarcerated or dead from causes such as suicide, drug overdose or violent incidents (possibly by provoking a ‘fellow psychopath’ to murder them). However, it has also been suggested that some possess the skills necessary to integrate themselves into society (mainly by having decision making skills which enable this and operating in an context suited to their abilities, for example where cold judgment and ruthlessness are an advantage) and become very, even exceptionally, successful; perhaps it comes as little surprise, then, that they are thought to tend to be statistically over-represented in, for example, politics and in CEO roles (think Monty Burns from The Simpsons, though I’m aware he’s not real. Obviously.).

WHAT KINDS OF CHILDHOODS HAVE ADULT ‘PSYCHOPATHS’ HAD?

Research shows that ‘psychopaths’ tend to be a product of ENVIRONMENT rather than nature – ie they are MADE rather than born. They also tend to have suffered horrendous childhoods either at the hands of their own parent/s or those who were supposed to have been caring for them – perhaps suffering extreme violence or neglect.

Post-mortem studies have revealed that they frequently have underdeveloped regions of the brain responsible for the governing of emotions; IT APPEARS THAT THE SEVERE MALTREATMENT THAT THEY RECEIVED AS CHILDREN IS THE UNDERLYING CAUSE OF THE PHYSICAL UNDERDEVELOPMENT OF THESE VITAL BRAIN REGIONS. It is thought that these brain abnormalities lead to a propensity in the individual to SEEK OUT RISK, DANGER and similar STIMULATION (including violence).

IS THE CONDITION TREATABLE?

Whilst there are those who consider the condition to be untreatable, many others, who are professionally involved in its study, are more optimistic. Indeed, some treatment communities have been set up to help those affected by the condition take responsibility for their actions and face up to the harm they have caused. Research is ongoing in order to assess to what degree intervention by mental health services can be effective.

David Hosier, BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Childhood Trauma: The Link with Future Gambling.

Research suggests that childhood trauma increases the likelihood of future addictions, including gambling. This gambling may become pathological. The types of childhood trauma that were experienced in pathological gamblers include violence, sexual abuse and loss. For instance, Jacobs (2008) conducted research demonstrating that childhood trauma greatly increased the risk of addictions in later life.

It has been hypothesized that gambling helps the individual cope with their childhood trauma through the psychological process known as DISSOCIATION (whilst intensely involved with gambling the individual ‘goes into another world’, blissfully disconnecting, for a time, from painful reality).

Pathological gambling is closely connected to impulse and control disorders; indeed, such disorders frequently express themselves in conditions linked to childhood trauma (such as borderline personality disorder).Pathological gambling may involve:

– an overwhelming preoccupation with gambling
– lying to others to cover up the extent of the gambling
– a failure to stop gambling even when the individual strongly wants to do so

The profile of the pathological gambler is often a complicated one as the individual often suffers from an array of other psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety (Abbot et al., 1999).

Studies estimate that about 2% (although the figure varies somewhat from study to study) of the U.S. population suffers from pathological gambling.

Factors other than childhood trauma which make an individual more at risk of developing pathological gambling inclue:

– being male
– being young
– having other mental health problems

Polusny et al (1995) suggested that addictive behaviours help the individual avoid both the memories of their childhood trauma together with the deeply painful feelings and emotions associated with it. Therefore, because activities such as gambling reduce the emotional distress connected with childhood trauma, the individual is driven to repeat the gambling experience again and again, due to the reward it provides of reducing psychological pain (this is technically known as negative reinforcement). It is my contention that, on some level, the benefits of reducing psychological pain must outweigh the financial losses; as losses can be enormous this gives some indication of the level of psychological pain the individual is in and the strength of the internal drive to reduce it. Of course, this can only be helpful in short-term bursts and, overall, it goes without saying that the individual’s pain and suffering are compounded.

THE GENERAL THEORY OF ADDICTION:

This model proposes that there is an underlying biological state (ie an abnormal resting arousal state) together with a psychological state which is painful for the individual (for example, by creating a feeling of unbearable anxiety) often caused by childhood trauma to which activities such as gambling provide an ‘escape route’ (temporarily). The individual becomes addicted to this short-term relief (although often he will not realize this is the fundamental reason he continues to gamble, the drive frequently being unconscious).

Addictions which alleviate extreme stress in this manner are known as MALADAPTIVE COPING STRATEGIES; they are, essentially, learned defences against UNRESOLVED TRAUMA-RELATED ANXIETY (Henry, 1996).

Studies have revealed that up to 80% of pathological gamblers have suffered extreme childhood trauma. Further studies suggest that the more severe and protracted the trauma, the higher the risk is that the individual will develop pathological gambling behaviour and the YOUNGER the individual will be when he starts to use gambling as a coping strategy. Indeed, I myself started playing fruit machines at the age of twelve (many places weren’t strict about the age of the person playing them in the late 1970s) and I can remember quite distinctly the pleasant relief it gave to my already depressed and anxious emotional state.

TREATMENT IMPLICATIONS:

It seems likely, then, that childhood trauma which remains unresolved is likely to elevate the risk of pathological gambling in individuals. When treating pathological gamblers, therefore, it is important to assess the degree of trauma the individual might have suffered and to consider appropriate psychological interventions which could be implemented to help the individual resolve the trauma. It is the psychological pain which underlies the compulsion to gamble which it is necessary to address.

I hope you have found this post of interest. You may, if you wish, click on ‘FOLLOW’ if you would like to follow this blog. New posts are added at least twice per week.

Click here for hypnotherapy download that treats gambling addiction.

Best wishes, David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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