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The Role Childhood Abuse Plays in Addiction

a person sits sadly near a window contemplating the connection between childhood abuse and addiction

Content warning: this article contains information about childhood abuse which may be difficult for some readers.

Child abuse has a proven connection to future drug use and addiction, a problem that impacts millions of people every year. If you are suffering from addiction, it’s worth exploring your past and gauging whether or not you suffered from abuse. It can help you get a feel for where addiction originates and how you can process it for a better future. Breaking the link between childhood abuse and addiction is important for you and your children—exposure to addiction is a risk factor for substance abuse.

Woodland Recovery Center offers addiction resources and services for people living with substance abuse and mental health conditions. Our trauma-informed programs help our patients process their trauma that may stem from childhood abuse, combat, or other life experiences. Break the connection between childhood abuse and trauma today by calling 662.222.2989 and talking with our Southaven, Mississippi, team.

Understanding Child Abuse

When people hear the term “child abuse,” they likely think of a parent hitting a child or spanking them excessively. While that’s definitely part of the physical aspect of child abuse, it’s not the only part. This is important for you to understand, as you may have been abused without even knowing it. You should also know that child abuse doesn’t necessarily have to come from the parent to qualify as abuse. Child abuse is typically broken down into four types:

  • Physical abuse – As mentioned above, physical abuse can consist of hitting or spanking a child. However, these aren’t the only ways that children are physically abused. They may be hit with sticks, burned, thrown downstairs, cut with knives, or otherwise injured.
  • Neglect – If you were left home alone from a very young age, were ignored, or had basic needs denied to you, you were a victim of neglect. Neglect is hard for many children to handle, especially if their parents do show signs of positive reinforcement and love when they aren’t being neglectful.
  • Psychological abuse – Words hurt, especially when they come from parents or other authority figures that are respected. Even if you were never physically hurt, being called “stupid” or “fat” or being described and treated in negative ways creates psychological abuse. Typically, physical abuse and neglect also create symptoms of psychological abuse.
  • Sexual abuse – This type of abuse is among the most impactful because it includes physical, psychological, and sometimes even neglectful abuse. Children who are sexually abused aren’t always abused by their parents, but their parents may have neglectfully put them in a situation where it occurred, ignored the child’s complaints, or looked the other way when it happened.

If any of these descriptions were accurate to the way you were treated as a child, there’s a chance you were abused. New cases of child abuse are reported every 10 seconds across the country. Unfortunately, that’s likely only a small number of cases that actually occur. You aren’t alone—help is available.

Childhood Abuse Creates Severe Trauma

It’s impossible to understand the effect that childhood abuse has on addiction without knowing how it impacts the child. Abse causes extreme feelings of trauma in children that don’t just verge on post-traumatic stress disorder, but fall into their own unique version of it.

The most immediate impact that childhood abuse has on children is the creation of a sense of severe shame. Children who are abused often quickly develop post-traumatic stress disorder, which may be severe enough to lead to serious mental health complications in the future. The trauma they endure can cause chemical and genetic changes within the brain that are much more resistant to change than other types of trauma.

These changes negatively impacted the way children who were abused develop later in life, interfering with their cognitive development and sometimes leading to depression, anxiety disorders, and even schizophrenia.

The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Addiction

While many children who were abused are given the helping hand they need to manage post-traumatic stress disorder, others aren’t so lucky. This is a major problem because this condition can quickly deteriorate and cause increasing complications in a person’s life. PTSD causes a variety of reactions, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Nightmares
  • A sense of being “under attack” at all times
  • Thoughts of hopelessness and worthlessness

Children struggling with these feelings haven’t yet developed nuanced coping skills and may never develop them due to the changes their brains have endured. As a result, many of these children later turn to drugs and alcohol to alleviate their symptoms.

Treatment Can Help with Addiction Caused by Childhood Abuse

If you have survived the type of childhood abuse listed above, believe you have post-traumatic stress disorder, and are also suffering from addiction, you can manage these problems. Comprehensive treatment will help manage both substance abuse and mental health issues. This is known as “co-occurring disorders treatment,” as it treats mental health problems and addiction at the same time. The two treatments, occurring simultaneously, will influence one another in positive ways. A typical treatment method will follow this guideline:

  • Checking in at a rehab center – Here, your condition will be gauged by experts, and a treatment method will be decided upon.
  • Withdrawal treatment – Quitting drugs is a physically demanding process, but withdrawal treatment will minimize its effects.
  • Physical health treatment – Any physical health problems, such as pain or malnutrition, caused by your addiction will be carefully treated.
  • Psychological assessment – Here, you and your counselor will dive into your mind and find where you are suffering. Then, you’ll work together to soothe that pain and find coping mechanisms that minimize the effects of your trauma.
  • Behavioral adjustments – Addiction is often a cycle of negative behavior patterns, so adjusting those behaviors (and negative thought processes) can help you prevent relapse.
  • Abuse education – Learn more about abuse and its impact on your life to understand why your recovery is so important.
  • Aftercare methods – Many people need continued outpatient care and time in a halfway house to recover from addiction. Others will need ongoing psychological treatment for their trauma.

Your exact treatment will vary, depending on your needs and goals. For example, you might be able to integrate meditation and spiritual elements into your recovery or even family counseling. For people who’ve suffered from childhood abuse, talking with parents is often a great way to make peace with that past. Talking with your children is also key if they suffered from any abuse at your doing or if they are simply concerned about your well-being.

Break the Cycle of Generational Trauma Today at Woodland Recovery Center

Addiction and child abuse often create a cycle that affects generations in a single family. An abusive father might cause his son to turn to drugs later in life. Then, when he has children, his addiction and abuse trauma might compel him to abuse his own children. At some point, this cycle of trauma and addiction needs to be broken.

At Woodland Recovery Center, we have a variety of addiction experts who will help you overcome addiction and give your children the kind of lives you want them to have. In this way, you can get back on your feet and become an amazing and sober parent. Learn more by contacting us at 662.222.2989.