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Childhood Trauma and Addiction

Updated: Aug 11, 2023

Childhood trauma and addiction often go hand-in-hand, with one fuelling the other in a vicious cycle of pain and suffering. Trauma can have a profound impact on a person’s psychological and physical health, leading to a range of negative outcomes, including addiction.


Types of Childhood Trauma


Childhood trauma refers to any experience that is emotionally or physically distressing and can negatively impact an individual’s mental and physical health. There are several types of childhood trauma including:

  1. Physical Abuse: Physical abuse involves any intentional use of force against a child, this includes hitting, punching, slapping, or any violent act.

  2. Sexual Abuse: sexual abuse involves any sexual act involving a child.

  3. Emotional Abuse: emotional abuse includes any behaviour that undermines a child’s emotional or mental development. This can involve verbal abuse, manipulation, neglect.

  4. Neglect: Neglect refers to failing to provide a child with the necessary care and support. This can involve failing to provide a shelter, food, clothing, medical care. It can also be an emotional neglect; disregarding child’s affectional needs by ignoring, invalidating or disregarding.


Mechanisms Driving Addiction in Traumatised People


Trauma can have a severe impact on a person’s health, both mental and physical, leading to a spectrum of negative outcomes, including addictive behaviour. Traumatised individuals may turn to substances or behaviours to cope with their pain, using it to numb their feelings of distress or to escape from their traumatic experiences. Addiction can also develop as a mean of self-medicating, with people using substances to cope with mental health issues, like anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Addiction can become a vicious circle in which people use drugs or alcohol to numb their feelings, leading to more trauma and further addiction. This cycle can be difficult to break without a proper treatment, which often involves addressing the underlying trauma that is driving addiction.


The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Addiction


Research has shown that childhood trauma and addiction are intimately linked, with traumatised people being at higher risk of developing addiction later in life. The risk of addiction increases with the number of traumatic experiences a person had. A study conducted by Dube et al. (2003) found that childhood trauma was a significant predictor of addiction in both, men and women. Trauma related symptoms, such as anxiety and depression played a significant role in the development of addiction.


Treatment for childhood trauma and addiction involves addressing both issues, as they are closely intertwined. With the proper treatment and support, individuals can break the cycle of trauma and addiction and achieve lasting recovery and healing.



Childhood trauma and addiction. Iremia Counselling


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