Tag Archives: Childhood Trauma And Substance Abuse

Effects of Anxiety on How We Think, Feel, Communicate and Behave


We know that, if we have experienced significant childhood trauma, we are more likely, as adults, to experience various forms of mental illness than those who were fortunate enough to have had relatively stable and secure childhoods. One such condition we may develop due to our childhood difficulties is clinical anxiety and it is this condition that I wish to examine in this article.

Specifically, I want to look at how anxiety makes us think, feel, communicate and behave. So, let’s look at each of these in turn :


– it is difficult to think clearly; it is like being enveloped by a mental fog or trying to think through treacle

– thinking becomes circular and repetitive – the same obsessive details regarding our problem go round and round in our mind, to absolutely no avail

– our thoughts become ‘stuck’ or ‘locked into’ our problem and we cease to make mental progress; thinking becomes futile and exhausting

– concentration on anything but our problem is impaired

– our sense of perspective becomes impaired; we are prevented from seeing the ‘bigger picture’

– we become mentally dominated by our problem, making it very hard to address other important aspects of our lives effectively as with have very little ‘mental energy’ to spare

– we become negative and pessimistic

– our confidence regarding other aspects of our lives is undermined

– we cannot view the problem we are obsessing about objectively or rationally

– we become focused on our short term survival, at the expense of our long-term interests (we may, for example, resort to drink and/or drugs in an attempt to gain some respite from our anguished psychological state – this is known as ‘DISSOCIATING’: click here to read my article on this)


– at best, being in a state of anxiety is unpleasant and painful, at worst it can lead to a profound sense of anguish and a feeling of being mentally tortured and tormented

– even simple tasks seem impossibly overwhelming (during my own protracted experience of extreme anxiety, I stopped brushing my teeth, rarely shaved and once, when my condition was at its worst, did not change any of my clothes for three months. I did not go out, except for cigarettes and alcohol, and survived by ordering in indian takeaways. Looking back now, I’m surprised I survived the period)

– feelings of mistrust for others frequently develop; indeed, we might start to feel threatened by others, which, at the extreme end of the scale, can develop into clinical paranoia

– our senses can become accentuated so that being in bright light, or hearing loud noises, can feel like a physical assault (to this day, I much prefer overcast days to sunny ones)

– our ‘startle response’ becomes exaggerated so that the smallest of things, like a soft knock at the door or the phone ringing, can ‘make us jump’ or even terrify us



– language, like thinking, becomes circular and repetitive – we go over the same ground again and again.

– if people try to reassure us, we find reasons why we cannot be reassured


-we feel stuck on ‘red alert’, constantly hypervigilant and expecting imminent disaster

– we may be unable to sit still, instead fidgeting nervously or pacing around the room

– alternatively, we may feel frozen by fear and sit motionless

– we may be highly irritable and quick to anger

– we may feel paralyzed by fear, almost completely unable to function and unable to cope with the smallest of life’s demands

– we may find it extremely hard to rest and impossible to relax

– sleep may be very badly affected – shallow, fitful, full of nightmares and unrefreshing (we may feel as tired after our so-called ‘sleep’ as we were just before we went to bed)

– high levels of stress and anxiety may also adversely affect our physical health, leading to, for example, palpitations, headaches, stomach problems, aches and pains. At the worst end of the spectrum, long-term and severe anxiety is thought to be linked to some forms of cancer, stroke, heart problems and high blood pressure

– we become scared of taking even very small risks, opting instead for safety and security; this can greatly restrict how we live our life and deprive us of many opportunities


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



Anxiety Disorders : The Role of Childhood Trauma


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


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


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.


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


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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)


Link Between Childhood Trauma and Drug/Alcohol Addiction – 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.

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link between childhood trauma and substance abuse

link between childhood trauma and substance abuse

Childhood Trauma: Its Relationship to Psychopathy.

Childhood Trauma And Psychopathy

What is the nature of the relationship between childhood trauma and 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.).


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).


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).