Childhood Trauma, a Veritable Trigger for Addiction

A study, titled “Substance use, childhood traumatic experience, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in an urban civilian population,” claims, “SUDs are also highly co-morbid with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mood-related psychopathology.” It says that there are “strong links between childhood traumatization and SUDs, and their joint associations with PTSD outcome.”

The United States is grappling with growing incidences of traumatic life experience, such as physical and sexual abuse as well as neglect which is considered a top public health problem in the country. It is increasing at an alarmingly high rate. A visit to any drug rehab centers in your area would vindicate this reality.

Another study by researchers at the University of Texas claims that childhood trauma can raise a child’s odds of developing depression and addiction later in life. Traumatic experiences cause disruptions in certain neural networks of the brain causing depression and substance use disorder in teens. The researchers conducted the study on 32 teens, out of which 19 had a history of abuse during their childhood. They followed up these teens every six months for an average of three and a half years. The study revealed that nearly half the maltreated children had either a diagnosable drug problem or depression or both, three times the rate seen in normal teens.

How do early life events shape our lives?

Our brains and bodies are programmed by our respective early life experiences. A child coming from a calm and well nurtured environment will have a rosy outlook towards the world. It will strive in every condition in life. On the other hand, a child subjected to abuse and exposed to traumatic experiences during early age will grow up predisposed to adverse conditions. It is only likely that such a child would take to substance abuse and get afflicted with other mental conditions.

Any overwhelming stress which is too unpredictable or something over which the person has little or no control becomes a hazard and trauma. Moreover, early neglect or an absence of parenting are also tantamount to trauma for a child.

The risk of substance use disorder increases in people with early traumatic experience because of their attempts to self-medicate. They tend to dampen mood symptoms associated with a deregulated biological stress response by using illicit drugs. To make it worse, early adolescent onset of substance use or abuse may further disrupt the biological stress response by increasing plasma cortisol levels. It substantially contributes to the risk for posttraumatic stress disorder or PTSD and co-morbid depressive symptoms.

It is also established that gender plays a key role as another study suggests the existence of a gender difference in co-morbidity. While exposure to traumatic events increases risk for SUDs for young women, it does not for young men.

The study “Substance use, childhood traumatic experience, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in an urban civilian population,” found differential effects of abuse type on substance use. Like sexual abuse in childhood is associated with cocaine and marijuana use only while emotional abuse was associated with cocaine use.

Prevention and cure

The study suggests an “enhanced awareness of the co-morbidity between PTSD and substance abuse is critical.” It will help people in understanding the mechanisms of substance addiction as well as in improving prevention and treatment.