Tag Archives: Causes Of Addiction

The Link Between Childhood Trauma And Addiction.

addiction-drug-abuse-childhood-trauma

 

 

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?

Experiments involving rats help to cast light upon this. These experiments involve measuring how addicted to cocaine rats become in two different conditions. These two conditions are as follows:

Condition One:  

A solitary rat in an impoverished environment (i.e. 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 (i.e. stimulating) environment.

drug-abuse-childhood-trauma

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 (i.e. apply it to humans) it would be expected that :

Individuals with empty, lonely lives are significantly more likely to become addicts and turn to drug abuse 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 / drug abuse 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 / drug abusers 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.

 

Treating Addiction :

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

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

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 behavior

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 e.g.  stranger, family member (more harmful if family member)

– was it a single incident or ongoing?

– was the event/ act/s intentional or accidental?

– was escape possible?

– what was the level of severity?

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

 

Resource

   Addiction Help (Many addictions addressed, click here to view).

 

OTHER ARTICLES ABOUT ADDICTION :

 

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

 

 

Why And How Childhood Trauma Can Turn Us Into Addicts

 

We frail humans can, all too easily, become addicted, psychologically and/or physically, to a large array of substances and behaviors. I provide a list of examples below:

– alcohol

– drugs (including drugs obtained on prescription, such as sleeping pills), illegal drugs and, in the UK and no doubt many other countries, so-called ‘legal highs’.

– tobacco

– work (people who are workaholics may also suffer from the condition known as PERFECTIONISM)

– food (people who over- indulge in food to help them to cope with psychological pain are often informally referred to as COMFORT EATERS)

– exercise (especially body building and/or jogging)

– watching TV

– surfing the internet

– computer games

– relationships (constantly getting bored with existing relationships and therefore perpetually and quickly moving from one partner to another always in search of fresh excitement and thrills that often accompany the start of a brand new relationship).

– sex (click here to read my article about erotomania)

gambling (with online gambling becoming an increasing problem)

– risk-taking (e.g. driving too fast, dangerous sports etc to gain a so-called adrenalin buzz’)

– power

– excessive spending (again, this can produce a temporary ‘high’ until the novelty of the item purchased wears off (usually quickly necessitating further purchases…)

download

Root Cause Of Such Dependencies:

We can become psychologically and/or physically dependent on behaviours and substances such as those mentioned above in an attempt to fill a void caused by a more profound dependency deriving from our dysfunctional childhood.

These dependencies/addictions are essentially defence mechanisms – a way of trying to reduce the level of our psychological suffering. Psychologists refer to this defence mechanism as DISSOCIATION

Multiple Addictions:

The more traumatic our childhood was, the more psychological defences we are likely to develop; this translates to the fact that many people suffer from multiple addictions. Also, those who had the most traumatic childhoods are likely to be those with the deepest, most intractable, addictions.

Symptoms Of The Dependent Individual:

As well as having one, or several, addictions, the person with a dependent personality may also :

– feel an abiding sense of abandonment / rejection

constantly feel anxious

be easily angered and his/her angry outbursts may be very intense/lacking control

– feel a sense of emptiness

feel life lacks meaning

– have a very weak sense of own identity

– feel that s/he has been used, exploited and taken advantage of (often by parents in childhood)

– feel s/he has been manipulated and controlled (often by patents in childhood)

– feel a general sense of confusion

– feel a deep sense of loneliness and ‘disconnection’ from others/society

– often feel fearful / a sense of impending doom

Also, in childhood, as a result of out trauma, we may have been prone to angry/aggressive outbursts, withdrawn and ‘moody’, negative, pessimistic and ‘difficult’ (actually, that sounds uncannily like me as an adolescent. And as an adult? Let’s not go there).

Short-Term Gains:

Addictions deliver short-term benefits (if they didn’t, people would not become addicted in the first place).

For example, addictions may provide :

– temporary relief from stress and anxiety

– temporary feelings of well-being

– temporary feelings of control and/or power

However, these benefits must be off-set against, for example, such considerations as the following:

– they mask the real issues and prevent the individual from dealing with his/her life problems (such as seeking therapy for a traumatic childhood)

-they lead to avoidance of confronting and working through/processing true feelings

The Addiction Cycle:

Addiction leads to a vicious cycle from which it becomes increasingly difficult to break free. First, there is an emotional trigger such as an argument with a partner.

This leads to stress and anxiety which in turn leads to a craving for the addictive substance / to perform the addictive behaviour in an attempt to reduce this anxiety.

There then follows the addictive ritual (e.g. drinking a bottle of whisky, going to a casino with all one’s hard earned cash).

After the substance is consumed / the behavior carried out feelings of guilt follow…and so the cycle continues (until effective therapy is sought and administered).

The diagram below illustrates this inexorable cycle of self-destruction:

images

 

The Fundamental Elements Of Addiction:

The main elements of addiction are:

1) An increasing obsession/ preoccupation with the substance/behaviour of addiction

2) Increased tolerance : the person needs more and more of whatever s/he’s addicted to due to ‘diminishing returns’ (e.g. takes increasingly more alcohol to produce desired effect – in this case, possibly, oblivion).

3) Diminishing control : e.g. a gambler may start losing larger and larger sums of money, overtaken by powerful and self-destructive impulses

4) Secretiveness : e.g. an alcoholic may hide bottles of whisky about the house and at work and deny to others that s/he drinks excessively

5) Denial to self / self-delusion : e.g. the drug addict who tells him/herself ‘giving up would be easy’ but that s/he currently ‘chooses’ not to. Or may deny to themselves their addiction is doing them any harm when it is clear to others that this is patently not the case).

6) Mood swings e.g. extreme anxiety suddenly changing to severe aggression/anger

7) Loss of self-respect : e.g. the alcoholic who can no longer be bothered concerning him/herself with his/her appearance / personal hygiene

8) Loss of moral principles e.g. the drug addict who steals from friends to get money to pay for drugs

9) Suicidal feelings / impulses

10) Exacerbation / development of psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety and paranoia.

11) Physical illness (e.g. liver disease, lung cancer)

RESOURCE :

ADDICTION HELP : SELF HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS

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