Often a person dealing with an addiction to alcohol or drugs looks only at their current life circumstances in order to figure out why they became addicted. However, the root of their substance abuse problem often goes back to their childhood. If not properly addressed, the trauma they experienced during this crucial time of development can have a lasting effect. Once undergoing treatment, millions of people find that they must overcome their childhood trauma in order to begin true, long-term sobriety.
What is Childhood Trauma?
Childhood trauma can come in the form of several different events. The most common events include:
- Sexual abuse
- Physical abuse or neglect
- Emotional abuse or neglect
- Being in a serious accident
- Experiencing a long-term hospitalization or life-threatening illness
- Losing a parent or caretaker
- Witnessing violence
- Being part of a violent military or wartime event
- Natural disasters, including flooding, earthquakes, and hurricanes
A child who experiences trauma may not realize the event qualifies as traumatic or might be told by adults to just get over it. Even long into adulthood, many individuals do not realize that conditions they developed, such as substance use disorders and mental illness, can be directly tied to the fact that they have not yet overcome childhood trauma.
Signs and Symptoms of Childhood Trauma
When a person has experienced childhood trauma, certain signs and symptoms can occur. Some of these include:
- Panic attacks
- Sleeping too much
- Difficulty expressing anger
- Unwarranted aggressive behavior
- Elevated blood pressure
- Difficulty focusing
- Denial that the past event had a lasting impact
- Body aches and digestive issues that cannot be tied to physical causes
When a person discusses these symptoms with a physician or therapist, it’s important to include any trauma from their past. This allows the treatment professional to make a full diagnosis that will include addressing any trauma-based symptoms they experience.
Why Should You Try and Overcome Your Trauma?
Developing mental illnesses becomes more of a risk if a person has dealt with childhood trauma, making treatment for trauma, no matter how far in the past it may have occurred, quite important in order to live a life with good mental health. A study published in the Journal of American Medical Association showed that those individuals who experienced childhood trauma had higher rates of developing psychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. These individuals often develop difficulties with financial and educational status and are at a higher risk for criminal behavior.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) states that exposure to traumatic events as a child can result in developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Once thought to be a rare event that did not occur in many children’s lives, it is now known that more than 60% of children are exposed to at least one traumatic event by the time they are 16. More than 30% are exposed to multiple traumatic events. When PTSD and other mental ailments that come about as a result of childhood trauma do not receive professional treatment, the individual often ends up dealing with what may be lifelong mental illnesses, as well as an addiction to alcohol or drugs.
How Childhood Trauma Can Lead To Addiction
Multiple studies show that traumatic experiences, including those that happen during childhood, can be directly linked to a person developing dependence on or a full-blown addiction to alcohol and drugs. Occurrences of childhood sexual, emotional, and physical abuse often result in substance abuse, with cocaine being a particularly prevalent drug the victim of trauma goes on to abuse. Because children do not have the cognitive ability to process their trauma, they often begin self-medicating to deal with the lingering side effects of it when they are teenagers or young adults. While the numbing effects of alcohol and drugs may offer temporary relief, they often end up becoming addicted to one or more substances, thus compounding their problems.
How to Treat Childhood Trauma
While the idea may seem intimidating at first, anyone can overcome childhood trauma when they receive the right treatment for it. Talk therapy provides the typical starting point. Discussing traumatic events with a trusted counselor who is trained to help diffuse the fear of talking about the past helps people sort through what happened and begin to move past it. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is often employed as the therapy of choice because of how many people with PTSD benefit from engaging in it.
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) has become a popular tool to help people who have experienced trauma lower their stress levels. EMDR involves using repetitive eye movements directed by a trained therapist while learning to reduce automatic emotionally painful reactions that occur while thinking about the traumatic events. A limited amount of sessions often result in a significant reduction in PTSD symptoms.
Many therapists are trained in treatment modalities like art therapy and music therapy. They help guide their clients in expressing their feelings via creative output, allowing them to process their pasts in a way that doesn’t just involve talk therapy. Other approaches to treating trauma include wilderness therapy, narrative exposure therapy, and prolonged exposure therapy. The professional treating the person will recommend what approaches to use in order to achieve the best results for the individual’s specific needs.
Getting Help To Overcome Childhood Trauma in Los Angeles
If you experienced childhood trauma that has kept you from moving on and becoming the happy, healthy person you deserve to be, don’t give up hope. Launch Centers provides professional treatment for young adults that addresses both substance use disorders and mental health challenges like having lived through a traumatic past.