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Dealing with childhood trauma in addiction recovery

Childhood trauma is arguably one of the biggest causes of addiction in adults. Some may disregard circumstances of an addict’s childhood by believing that the child was too young to know what was happening around them.

This is the furthest thing from the truth. The link between childhood trauma and addiction in undeniable.

Furthermore, there are many different forms of trauma that a child can experience. Some of this trauma may take place while in the womb, during the first few months of life or on-going throughout one’s childhood.

Understanding that trauma will greatly influence a person’s cognitive development and is the first step in understanding addiction.

Childhood trauma - addiction recovery and treatment

Different types of childhood trauma

• Emotional or psychological abuse

This includes emotional neglect, keeping a child away from healthy social interactions, verbal assault and manipulation.

• Neglect

Failing to provide a child with a safe, nurturing environment, sufficient nutrition and clothing. Neglect can also present as failing to provide adequate medical attention when required or exposing a child to a dangerous environment.

• Sexual abuse

A very common form of childhood trauma where the child is exposed to inappropriate sexual encounters without their consent. This abuse can be extremely violent or can be done in ways that are not blatantly obvious.

• Physical abuse

When a parent or guardian intentionally hurts a child physically. This can be done by either using an object or in other ways such as kicking and pushing the child.

• Serious accident or injury

A car accident, medical procedure or general injury that is extremely painful or life-threatening can be deeply traumatic for a child.

• Bullying and school violence

Being victimized and bullied at school. Witnessing school violence such as fights between students and student suicide.

• Community violence

Being brought up in poverty-stricken areas which foster gang-related violence, a child may witness shootings and many other forms of extreme violence.

• Traumatic separation

This is where a child is suddenly separated from their parent, guardian or friend due to death, divorce or sudden and unexplained absence.

• Political violence

Such as war, bombing and shooting taking place in the child’s environment.

What are the effects of childhood trauma?

The experiences a child has throughout their childhood will greatly impact the brains development.

The same way that positive experiences will contribute to a child’s cognitive development, negative experiences play the same role.

However, negative experiences will become considerably detrimental in later years.

It has been shown that negative experiences have long lasting effects on behavioural patterns in adulthood.

These behavioural patterns are directly linked to trauma induced addiction. A child who has been exposed to trauma is forced to find ways to cope with these stress factors.

There are physiological coping mechanisms that we are born with which become stimulated in times of stress as a means of protection.

This innate response can be useful from time to time. However, repeated stimulation of this response becomes detrimental in later years.

It depletes the brain’s ability to release the relevant hormones which help us in times of panic.

Overstimulation of the fight or flight response therefore renders the child unable to cope with stressful situations in adulthood.

Consequently, people who have been subjected to childhood trauma are more likely turn to substances as a means of dealing with or forgetting their pain.

The role of children and adults in childhood trauma

It is far more difficult for a child to make sense of a traumatic event than it is for an adult. This generally means that the trauma will have a longer lasting effect on the child.

Furthermore, children are automatically dependent on their parent or guardian to protect them from these events.

The problem, however, is that in many cases the adult who should be protecting the child is the actual source of the trauma.

The child is then forced to develop ways to cope, defend themselves and to self-soothe. This is the foundation for violent behaviour and addiction.

Dealing with childhood trauma

• Seek professional assistance

There is no shame in speaking to someone about your pain. Speaking about the trauma you have experienced can help you overcome the effects it has on you.

• Do not isolate yourself

Isolation may seem like a good way to protect yourself from further trauma, but it is an unhealthy coping mechanism.

Surround yourself with people who love you and who you can trust. Build loving relationships with your friends and family so as to create a support system that can help you through difficult times.

• Live a healthy life

Living a healthy life with routine and structure can greatly benefit trauma and addiction recovery.

Adopt a healthy diet, exercise and do things that bring you joy. Healthy mind, healthy body and vice versa.

• Acknowledge the trauma you have experienced

Denial will never serve your healing process. Pretending to be fine doesn’t make you fine. Do not avoid your experience.

Embrace it as something that happened to you that was out of your control. In doing so, you will be able to develop ways to heal from your pain.

• Accept and forgive

Although this will not happen overnight, work on accepting your trauma and forgiving the source of your trauma. Do not hold onto resentment and hate.

Follow your process as you should while aiming towards ultimate forgiveness. Once you can forgive, you will set yourself free and will no longer be a victim of your trauma.

• Find ways to challenge yourself

By stepping out of your comfort zone you are creating the opportunity to gain strength where you once felt weak.

Stand up for yourself in a time where you would have simply kept quiet. Say no when you feel it is the right thing to do. Take your power back and let go of your fear.

• Develop methods of destressing

Learn yoga or meditation. Try different breathing techniques. Go for a walk in nature. Whatever works best for you, find a way to destress when you are feeling anxious.

Step Away Rehabilitation Centre

There are many reasons that a person can become addicted. Addiction recovery must be holistic and the cause of their addiction is the starting point.

There are many contributing factors for addiction and the possibility of childhood trauma should always be addressed.

For more information about our programmes, please contact us.

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