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The Childhood Trauma & Alcoholism Link: Were You Emotionally Neglected?

Is there a connection between childhood trauma and addiction?

Psychological research into the topic of childhood trauma and addiction, as well as childhood trauma and alcoholism, has revealed a clear connection. In studies, people who struggle with addiction and alcoholism are far more likely to have experienced some form of childhood trauma compared to people who do not have an addiction. 

Additionally, those people experiencing an addiction who reported childhood trauma were more likely to have a more severe addiction problem if the trauma they suffered as a child was more severe. Clearly, having a rough childhood is a risk factor for drug addiction and alcohol abuse in adults.

How does abuse affect the brain?

Researchers have studied the brain extensively using MRI in people who are recovering from childhood trauma. Even people recovering from childhood emotional abuse can be left with lasting changes to multiple areas of the brain.

 A hard childhood can lead to an overactive amygdala, which can cause difficulties in processing emotions and an increase in overall stress. Additionally, there are at least eight other major brain structures that can be affected, based on brain research findings.

These changes in the brain can lead to various types of learning disabilities, including cognitive processing disorder and others. And, there is a clear connection between childhood trauma and addiction as well as between childhood trauma and alcoholism.

What is the most common type of childhood trauma?

Emotional neglect may be the most common type of childhood trauma. Neglect can also be the most difficult type of childhood trauma to detect because it is very subtle with no physical signs of abuse. Many people who may feel that their childhood was uneventful, will agree, when they think back, that they were actually victims of emotional neglect abuse.

When it comes to exploring the issue of alcohol and child neglect, we find that the issue is very prevalent and pervasive throughout society. People who go to rehab or therapy because of alcohol abuse may feel guilt at first that they slipped into a life of alcoholism in spite of having a safe childhood, free of physical abuse. Yet, when they explore further, they realize that emotional neglect was always present.

Emotional neglect can be a result of one or both parents being addicted to drugs or alcohol. In fact, it can be a result of parents being involved in many kinds of addiction. Even a parent’s persistent television binging can result in emotional neglect of children in the home. Work addiction and gambling addiction can have similar effects.

Loving yourself for who you are after overcoming childhood neglect.

Another common form of emotional neglect is when a parent is not happy with their child for who they are. For example, a father may want a sports-loving son who wants to watch the games with him and throw around a ball outside. He may hope for a varsity football player who wins games and gets scouted by college coaches.

However, we are all different and that father may not get the son he was hoping for. His son may be an introvert and prefer computer gaming, studying science, and learning how to write code. The son will be aware that his father loves him, yet wishes that his son would change to be the way he wants him to be. 

The son will feel neglected and will also believe that it is his fault that his father is not happy with him. He may try to change his behavior to make his father love him more. Or, he may engage in behavior to cover up the pain of neglect. Alcoholism and drug addiction are possible ways that he may cope with the pain of childhood neglect.

Is childhood emotional neglect one of the causes of addictive personality?

There are many possible manifestations of the effects of abuse on the brain. Depression, anxiety, and PTSD are some possible consequences of abuse by emotional neglect. An addictive personality is another frequent outcome of childhood pain.

Often, the abuse of alcohol or drugs starts in childhood. It is hard to imagine a good long term outcome when it comes to a child addicted to drugs or alcohol. While child substance abuse is a very serious issue, it is possible for a child or young adult to overcome their addiction and live a fulfilling life.

Child substance abuse is even more serious because of the effects on the developing brain. Abuse and neglect already have direct effects on the developing brain of a child. The effects of alcohol, drugs, and addiction can lead to additional changes in the growing brain that are often permanent.

Childhood abuse therapy should address ways to work around and compensate for negative thoughts and behaviors that might be related to dysfunctional changes in the brain’s anatomy. While these brain changes may be subtle, their effects can be significant. It is important for a therapist to recognize how psychological illness relates to the effects of abuse on the brain of a person who started drinking or using drugs early in life.

Is everyone addicted to something?

Some people believe that all families are dysfunctional. If this is true, is it possible that everyone is a victim of some form of physical or psychological abuse and trauma during childhood? Would this mean that all people are addicted to something, whether it is alcohol, drugs, sex, work, gambling, food, or something else? Addiction comes in many forms, but it is not the only way that people learn to handle childhood trauma.

While it may be true that psychological trauma is widespread, not everyone is affected the same. Addiction to alcohol and drugs does occur in some individuals, but others may learn other coping mechanisms. It is interesting to consider that there may be nothing at all wrong with the addicted person relative to nearly all other people. They simply have developed a different way of coping with the lasting effects of childhood trauma and dealing with past abuse.

How do addiction survivors deal with the stress of childhood pain?

While medication-assisted treatment is highly successful in treating alcohol use disorder and opioid use disorder, it is not a replacement for therapy. Psychotherapy is one of the cornerstones of treatment for alcohol and drug addiction. It is important to unravel childhood issues and work through the layers of trauma and abuse issues. While a person may be able to quit and stay off of alcohol and drugs with medical therapy, psychological therapy is the key to long term success.

Alcoholism and child abuse are serious issues. While seeing a doctor for medication-assisted treatment or going to detox or rehab can help, it is also important to see a highly qualified therapist. A psychologist with experience and training in treating alcohol use disorder and other use disorders is a critical part of treatment. Many rehabs do not employ expert psychologists as a part of their teams. If you do not have a therapist, talk to your doctor for a referral to a top expert in your area.

While child abuse and addiction can lead to lasting trauma-related stress and mental health problems, it is possible to resolve these issues and move on to a rewarding and fulfilling life. If you have thought to yourself, “I had a bad childhood,” and that is why you are having problems as an adult, you can learn how to overcome childhood trauma. Your therapist and your support network can help you to discover how to heal from childhood trauma. It may take time, but as long as you make progress in the right direction, you can take pride when looking back at how far you have come from where you first started.

Is it possible to be addicted to stress or addicted to emotional pain?

In some cases, it may seem like a person does not want to let go of their pain. It is true that there are people who may get a rush, similar to a drug high, when they experience intense emotions, such as anger, stress, and fear. Remember, the amygdala, the anatomical part of the brain that coordinates emotional responses can be altered by childhood trauma. When it comes to alcoholism and child abuse, an alcoholic parent who emotionally neglects their child is likely contributing to lifelong emotional issues relating to anger, stress and fear. Conditions, such as borderline personality disorder, may be more likely in the adult children of alcoholics. BPD is, itself, a risk factor for alcoholism.

Unfortunately, strong emotions can be addictive. Stress addiction is possible because stress promotes the release of hormones such as noradrenaline, cortisol, and adrenaline. Anger promotes the release of dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. It is possible to become addicted to the effects of the feeling of the rush of these hormones and neurotransmitters.

Does trauma lead to ADHD?

Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder is a condition that affects many children and adults. Yet, it may be significantly over diagnosed by psychiatrists and pediatricians. Nevertheless, there is a strong connection between ADHD and alcoholism as well as drug addiction. People who are addicted to alcohol or drugs are more likely to have an ADHD diagnosis. The question is, does the ADHD put them at higher risk for substance abuse, or did childhood trauma put them at higher risk for both ADHD and addiction?

Other conditions, such as bipolar disorder, are also associated with substance abuse. Another important consideration is that many people with mental health issues may be self-medicating when they use alcohol or drugs. While this may work for them in the beginning, alcoholism and addiction eventually spin out of control and put the person at risk for severe consequences. 

What is the next step to dealing with alcohol and emotional abuse?

First, if you are a parent and you are struggling with excessive alcohol use, it is important to get help as soon as possible. By getting treatment to help you stop drinking and stay sober, you will be mitigating the damage that you may be causing to your children. You will be able to stop the cycle of mental health issues and substance use going forward in your children and their children. 

To help your children to heal from the effects of your own alcohol or drug use, not only should you get medical treatment to help you quit, you should also consider therapy for your children and for yourself. It is important that children understand that they have no control over the actions of others.

It is also critically important that children understand that they are not responsible or at fault when a parent has a substance abuse problem. To avoid codependency issues in the future, children may learn how to cope with alcoholism and addiction problems in the family through therapy. Learning more about addiction and how it impacts families can help them to put alcoholism and addiction in the family in perspective. They will learn that their parent still loves them, in spite of their behavior and emotional neglect of their children. And, they will learn that they are responsible only for their own actions.

If you are a parent concerned about alcohol abuse in children, you must get help for them immediately.

While alcohol abuse in adults is a serious concern, alcohol abuse in children something that we must take immediate action to address. The effects of alcohol on the growing brain are serious with significant consequences for how their brain will develop into adulthood. There are rehab programs specifically tailored to treat adolescents who have drug and alcohol problems. The programs can help children to stop using alcohol or drugs and get their lives back on track.

What about help for the gray area drinker?

Gray area drinking is considered to be when a person drinks alcohol enough that they see it as a problem, but they do not consider themselves to be an alcoholic. Gray area drinkers typically do not drink every day, but when they do drink, they have a bit too much. 

Fortunately, medical treatment for alcohol use disorder is particularly effective for gray area drinkers. For example, TSM, or The Sinclair Method, works very well for gray area drinkers, using the medication, naltrexone. Naltrexone helps to pharmacologically extinguish the compulsion to continue drinking alcohol.

If I am ready to stop alcohol now and I want to stay sober, should I see a doctor or psychologist?

This is an excellent question. I recommend seeing both a medical doctor or osteopathic physician and a doctor of psychology. However, the first place you should plan to go for help is your family doctor who can help to evaluate your physical condition. And, they can either start medical treatment for alcoholism or they can refer you to a specialist with experience in medication-assisted treatment for alcohol use disorder. 

Your doctor will also likely refer you to a qualified psychologist in your area. Or, you may also be referred to a psychologist whom you may see with telehealth or telemedicine services.

Now is the best time to make the decision to improve your life by stopping alcohol use and drug use. With these toxic substances out of your system, you will be better prepared to address possible childhood trauma issues that may have been haunting you for years.

In addition to seeking medical and psychological help for alcohol and drug addiction, you may also find expert literature and media on the topic useful to learn more about your condition. This may also help you to prepare with questions for your doctor ahead of time. Alcoholic podcasts can also be an excellent source of information and a place where you may hear inspirational stories of how individuals found the strength to overcome alcohol or drug addiction.

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