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The Link Between Child Abuse and Addiction

In this article I aim to help Americans understand what constitutes child abuse and how distressing experiences can follow children into adulthood. Preventing child abuse is the most important factor in addressing this issue, but we owe it to those who have experienced child abuse to recognize their struggles and provide treatment. If victims of […]

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In this article I aim to help Americans understand what constitutes child abuse and how distressing experiences can follow children into adulthood. Preventing child abuse is the most important factor in addressing this issue, but we owe it to those who have experienced child abuse to recognize their struggles and provide treatment. If victims of child abuse receive formal treatment, their chances of recovery become much greater. It is important to note that sexual abuse is only one form of child abuse – traumatic experiences can also include other abusive instances, such as emotional neglect, physical abuse, or witnessing domestic violence. Witnessing of domestic violence (WDV) is known to affect brain development, but the exact consequences and the severity of those consequences on the brain’s development remain unknown.[1]

The impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) on mental health is significant, and we know that the correlation between the number of such experiences and the risk of developing depressive disorders is severe.[2] There has not been ample research on the effects of adverse childhood experiences in adulthood, but a high percentage of substance abusers have experienced childhood trauma.[3] Understanding this link between adverse childhood experiences and substance abuse is critical in order to sympathize with those struggling from substance use disorder and to determine the most effective treatment methods that can be used in a healthcare setting for trauma victims.

Neuroscience is also used to determine the effect of adverse childhood experiences on the brain’s development by focusing on specific areas that are central to early neurodevelopment, such as brain myelination. Brain myelination is a process that begins prior to birth, matures in the first two years postnatal, and continues into the third decade.[4] The process involves the growth of a myelin sheath around the brain, which surrounds neuronal processes and fibers that affect the efficiency of the brain’s electrical transmissions.[5] Studies of the last decade have shown a link between witnessing domestic violence as a child and alterations in brain myelination as well as the increased risk of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and reduced IQ scores.[6] Through this research, we begin to see the undeniable relationship between traumatic experiences in childhood and the development of the human brain, but what is there to be said about substance abuse and brain myelination? Illicit substances are known to produce both acute and chronic changes in brain function.[7] Furthermore, drugs affect brain myelination through transcripts encoding proteins functionally involved in neuronal function and synaptic plasticity, which result in reduced cognitive function.[8]

The stigmatization of substance abuse and mental health disorders can act as a societal barrier to those who are seeking treatment. Significant research on the links between childhood trauma and substance abuse suggests that many who suffer from substance use disorder are reacting to childhood trauma. We are largely products of our environment, and de-stigmatizing our attitudes towards substance abuse is necessary to mitigate substance use and mental health disorders and to advocate for fair access to treatment for at-risk populations.

Traumatic experiences can severely affect day-to-day functioning, and the link between traumatic experiences and substance use disorders is clear. Survivors of trauma don’t get the luxury of living carefree day-to-day lives. They need to invent self-regulating strategies in order to cope with daily life and to  feel comfortable and not overwhelmed.

Self-regulating strategies are developed in early childhood and include such survival mechanisms  as self-harm, reenactment of traumatic experiences, or use of food as a coping mechanism. High risk behaviors such as unprotected sex, gambling, and substance abuse are also the result of self-regulating strategies that aim to temporarily alleviate trauma victims’ feelings of depression, anxiety, and fear.

People who have experienced trauma are nearly 12 times more likely to develop alcoholism, drug or nicotine addiction, or depression and have suicidal thoughts or make suicide attempts. They are also more likely to become obese due to chronic inactivity and are at greater risk than the non-traumatized population to have a stroke or cancer or to develop diabetes, liver, heart, or chronic lung disease[9].

Every person suffering from a substance use disorder or mental health disorder is entitled to treatment in order to recover. While societal attitudes continue to stigmatize these complex disorders, we need to continue to advocate for the voiceless by improving our understanding of their unique situations and providing accessible and effective treatment options related to substance abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders.

When we understand the significant prevalence of trauma in the general population, as well as its relationship to drug and alcohol abuse, we can gain a solid foundation for understanding how to compassionately and comprehensively treat these issues in adolescents and young adults.

Originally posted at: https://www.heatherhayes.com/child-abuse-and-addiction/

Sources

[1] Choi, J., Jeong, B., Polcari, A., Rohan, M. and Teicher, M., 2020. Reduced Fractional Anisotropy In The Visual Limbic Pathway Of Young Adults Witnessing Domestic Violence In Childhood. [online] Web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.library.uvic.ca. Available at: <http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.library.uvic.ca/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=54f7b331-6df7-47e6-9f10-4a46a3316a0e%40sessionmgr4007&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#AN=67715741&db=aph> [Accessed 7 October 2020].

[2] Chapmana, P., Whitfieldb, C., Felittic, V., Dubea, S., Edwardsa, V. and Andaa, R., 2020. Adverse Childhood Experiences And The Risk Of Depressive Disorders In Adulthood Daniel. [online] Semanticscholar.org. Available at: <https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Adverse-childhood-experiences-and-the-risk-of-in-Chapmana-Whitfieldb/c8f54111f295a998ad4d39f6ad709785bbbca33a?p2df> [Accessed 7 October 2020].

[3] Suat, E. and Kandemir, H., 2020. Childhood Trauma In The Lives Of Substance-Dependent Patients: The Relationship Between Depression, Anxiety And Self-Esteem.. [online] Web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.library.uvic.ca. Available at: <http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.library.uvic.ca/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=05ae9df0-b02e-473c-b040-2d0995a4d54f%40sdc-v-sessmgr03&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#AN=102602370&db=aph> [Accessed 7 October 2020].

[4] Volpe, J., 2020. Volpe’s Neurology Of The Newborn | Sciencedirect. [online] Sciencedirect.com. Available at: <https://www.sciencedirect.com/book/9780323428767/volpes-neurology-of-the-newborn> [Accessed 7 October 2020].

[5] Volpe, J., 2020. Volpe’s Neurology Of The Newborn | Sciencedirect. [online] Sciencedirect.com. Available at: <https://www.sciencedirect.com/book/9780323428767/volpes-neurology-of-the-newborn> [Accessed 7 October 2020].

[6] Choi, J., Jeong, B., Polcari, A., Rohan, M. and Teicher, M., 2020. Reduced Fractional Anisotropy In The Visual Limbic Pathway Of Young Adults Witnessing Domestic Violence In Childhood. [online] Web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.library.uvic.ca. Available at: <http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.library.uvic.ca/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=54f7b331-6df7-47e6-9f10-4a46a3316a0e%40sessionmgr4007&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#AN=67715741&db=aph> [Accessed 7 October 2020].

[7] Lehrmann, E. and Freed, W., 2020. Transcriptional Correlates Of Human Substance Use.. [online] Web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.library.uvic.ca. Available at: <http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.library.uvic.ca/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=463c6cb2-cc7e-4945-bbcb-ab6dcb33fb73%40sessionmgr4007&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#AN=34630197&db=aph> [Accessed 7 October 2020].

[8] Lehrmann, E. and Freed, W., 2020. Transcriptional Correlates Of Human Substance Use.. [online] Web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.library.uvic.ca. Available at: <http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.library.uvic.ca/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=463c6cb2-cc7e-4945-bbcb-

[9] Gunstad, John et al. “Exposure To Early Life Trauma Is Associated With Adult Obesity”. Psychiatry Research, vol 142, no. 1, 2006, pp. 31-37. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2005.11.007. Accessed 7 Oct 2020.

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