Drug and alcohol addiction is a multi-faceted disease. Many factors can impact an individual’s susceptibility to addiction, including physiology, genetics and environment. Due to this there is a direct link between preverbal or childhood trauma and addiction. In a study done on an abstract group of women with substance use disorders, sixty percent of them had a history of childhood sexual abuse, fifty five percent of them had a history of childhood physical abuse and forty five percent of them had a history of emotional neglect or abuse. These statistics show a strong correlation between childhood abuse and the development of addiction as a mitigating behavior. When trauma occurs in childhood it adversely impacts the brains normal development. The human brain adapts and responds to its environment. In relation to addiction, an individual is born with the genetic predisposition for this disease and the environmental stimulation the individual is exposed to can activate this gene and alter the neural pathways causing synapses to develop. These neural abnormalities occurring in brain structure of individuals who experience childhood trauma are thought to negatively impact emotional development, social capacity, and proper cognitive ability.
The developmental difficulties causes by trauma can be exhibited in many ways. Often children who have experienced trauma exhibit symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or severe anxiety, when in reality they are experiencing a normal physiological response to trauma. Due to this they are often misdiagnosed and incorrectly medicated. Later in life many of these individuals end up self-medicating. This mitigating behavior is extremely dangerous for individuals predisposed to alcoholism. This is especially true because when individuals are using drugs and drinking heavily they often expose themselves to traumatizing environments on a daily basis. When the body is abused physically, sexually or emotionally, neurochemicals are released in the brain activating the amygdala and throwing the mind and body into the “Fight, Flight, or Freeze response. Individuals who are repeatedly exposed to trauma have a lower threshold for these neurochemicals and can be thrown into this response by far more mild experiences. This perpetuates drug and alcohol abuse as a way to cope with constant agitation and fear.
When individuals enter recovery, they are faced with the challenge of feeling all the built up emotional and physical stress on their body by the trauma they have endured. Trauma and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder cause a range of problems from sleep deprivation, to night terrors, and somatic issues. In order to treat this, individuals need a multi-faceted treatment strategy – including 12 step based programs, clinical trauma work, and development of spiritual coping tools. Long-term treatment is the most effective in this area because it allows the individual time to emotionally and somatically regulate, before diving into clinical trauma work. In doing this work individuals gain an understanding of their disease, learn and practice tools in order to self-regulate, learn and implement the principals of 12 step recovery, and begin to heal spiritually, physically and emotionally. Working through trauma therapeutically allows individuals to form internal and external emotional boundaries, learn to form safe and healthy interpersonal relationships and feel safe in their body instead of being a state of disassociation. All of these aspects allow for long-term, sustainable recovery.