Research has shown that substance abuse is more likely for those who suffered trauma such as abuse during childhood. The effect was most pronounced for women who had been sexually and physically abused or neglected and maltreated, but was present for men who suffered childhood trauma as well.
What the Research Shows
Being traumatized in childhood is something people would like to forget once they grow up and become adults, but most people have a great deal of difficulty letting go of the memories and the pain that goes along with them. Substance abuse often becomes a coping mechanism that makes forgetting easier, at least when they are under the influence of the drugs or alcohol.
Not only are victims of childhood physical, sexual, or emotional abuse more likely to become addicted to drugs or alcohol, but they also begin using drugs and alcohol at a younger age than the general population, according to several studies.
Besides using drugs or alcohol to forget about abuse, substance use can also be an attempt to self-medicate other mental health disorders that are common after abuse, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. While drugs and alcohol can sometimes appear to alleviate some of the symptoms of these disorders, they eventually stop working and the disorder comes roaring back, worse than before. This can lead to a downward spiral of more and more substance abuse, or even overdose.
Treating the Results of Childhood Abuse
It is important to treat the mental health and psychological conditions that result from childhood abuse concurrently with substance abuse treatment—if you don't, you won't get to the root of the problem that is most likely causing or at least contributing to the abuse in the first place.
It may be possible for someone to detox and learn some ways of handling their cravings for drugs or alcohol. However, without addressing the abuse and how it has impacted them and driven them to addiction as a way to cope, they will likely end up right back where they started—possibly even worse off if they believe they will never be capable of recovery.
Healing from the trauma of childhood abuse is possible and is a victim's best chance for lasting recovery from their addiction. For those who have a co-occurring disorder that goes with their substance abuse, it is only through dealing with both together that they can overcome the lasting damage abuse leaves behind and move forward in healing and greater wholeness.
The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake is a Colorado rehab that offers comprehensive substance abuse treatment including co-occurring disorders that may stem from childhood trauma or abuse. Our highly trained counselors and staff are equipped to help you or a loved one overcome your past trauma along with recovery from substance abuse. Contact us for more information.