Child Abuse Can Lead to Substance Abuse

Although most people are not aware of it, child abuse can lead to substance abuse. In fact, research studies have now linked this form of abuse to drug addiction and alcoholism.

Link Between Child Abuse and Addiction

Children who experienced maltreatment and abuse often suffer changes in various vital segments of their brains. Due to these changes, they may develop mental health disorders like schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety. As a result, they may end up abusing drugs and alcohol to self-medicate for the signs and symptoms of these adverse mental illnesses.

These forms of child abuse are varied. They include but are not limited to parental discord, parental separation, bereavement, emotional and physical neglect, and sexual, physical, and verbal abuse.

Brain scans of children who experienced such abuse often show evidence of trauma. This is irrespective of whether or not they end up displaying the signs and symptoms of a mental health disorder.

In particular, ongoing child abuse affects the hippocampus and the subiculum. The former is linked with memory function while the latter received information and determines behavioral and biochemical responses to stress.

According to researchers, abuse can change the functioning of this stress system. It also keeps it on high alert. While in such a broken state, the victims of abuse often feel fearful and anxious. They also have difficulties feeling pleasure and joy. In turn, this leads to the abuse of drugs and alcohol.

These changes could also give rise to mental health disorders. This is why childhood abuse is often associated with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Understanding Child Abuse and Addiction

In 2011, more than 676,000 children suffered from abuse and neglect in the United States. Depending on the extent and severity of the abuse, physical injuries are typically visible instantly, with some of them lasting for several weeks.

Neglect and abuse, on the other hand, have other consequences that might last much longer for the victim, the family unit, the community, and the society. In other situations, it even lasts for the entire lifetime of the affected individual while in others it goes through generations.

The consequences of child neglect and abuse are often discussed according to the type of effects they have. These effects could be societal, familial, in the community, behavioral, psychological, or physical.

However, the lines between these effects are often marred by reality. For instance, physical effects might include damage to the growing brain of the affected child. This, in turn, could have some psychological consequences like emotional difficulties and cognitive delays.

Psychological problems such as depression and anxiety, on the other hand, might become more evident both in the short and in the long term. The victim, for instance, could engage in unprotected sex, drinking alcohol excessively, abusing other substances, smoking tobacco cigarettes and marijuana, and overeating.

In many cases, these risky behaviors often lead to other long term problems with health - such as cancer, addiction, obesity, and the contraction of sexually transmitted diseases, among many others.

Although not everyone who was neglected and abused as a child will end up suffering from these long term effects and harmful consequences, there is a high risk that this could end up happening.

Physical Effects of Child Neglect and Abuse

When child abuse is physical in nature, it could result in injuries. This could range from bleeding and broken bones to minor bruises and cuts. In some instances, it also leads to death.

In many cases, the physical evidence will disappear over time. However, the suffering and pain endured could cause other long-term effects on the physical health of the child. This is why the NSCAW - the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being - reported that about 28 percent of the victims of child abuse had other chronic health conditions and illnesses. These might include but are not limited to:

b) Psychological Effects of Child Neglect and Abuse

Some of the emotional side effects of child neglect and abuse include isolation, fear, and an innate inability to trust others. These issues often translate to other problems that could last for the rest of life, such as self-esteem issues, relationship problems, and depression. They could also give rise to:

c) Behavioral Effects of Child Neglect and Abuse

Although not everyone who suffered child abuse early on in life will suffer behavioral issues later. However, the likelihood that this could happen is quite high. In fact, research from the NSCAW shows that as much as 50 percent of young people who suffered maltreatment displayed behavioral and emotional problems later on in life. Other emotional effects of abuse and neglect include:

Addiction and Child Abuse

When parents abuse drugs and alcohol, there is a high risk that they might neglect or abuse their children. In the future, this could have a negative impact that could run for the rest of the lives of these children.

For instance, these children would have a higher likelihood of experiencing trauma, having difficulties with learning and concentration, having little control over their emotional and physical responses to stress, and issues with developing relationships built on trust.

Findings from several epidemiological studies also show that victims of child abuse often have a high risk of abusing drugs and drinking alcohol later on in their lives. In fact, adults who were abused during their children often resort to these forms of substance abuse to cope with the experiences and emotions that are still left over from the trauma they experienced growing up.

A long term study followed children until they were 24 years old. Findings from the study showed that those who experienced physical abuse over the first 5 years of their lives ended up abusing drugs and drinking alcohol later on in life.

Other findings reported that there is a direct correlation between childhood trauma and abuse and substance addiction later on in life. When people experience traumatic incidents in their childhood, they can easily - and often do - end up struggling with mental health issues. These issues, on the other hand, cause them to try to self-medicate through drug abuse and excessive drinking.

According to the NIH - the National Institutes of Health - over 30 percent of teens who reported neglect and abuse ended up struggling with substance abuse and addiction before their 18th birthday.

TIME Magazine, on the other hand, released data showing that between 55 and 60 percent of people who were struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder ended up abusing drugs and drinking alcohol. this assertion was backed by research from the APA - the American Psychological Association.

On the other hand, the National Institute of Mental Health (or NIMH) reported that 7 to 8 percent of all people in the United States were living with post-traumatic stress disorder to some extent. Identifying substance abuse triggers that are linked to trauma, to this end, is key to the treatment of people who are struggling with addiction. It can also ensure that they get the help to overcome the trauma caused by child abuse and neglect so that they can deal with their addiction and end up leading healthy, productive, and substance free lifestyles later on.

Trauma and Child Abuse

Trauma refers to the malignant and adverse emotional reaction that occurs in response to a repetitive or singular event which caused severe psychological or physical harm. If you develop this condition, there is a high probability that you will no longer be able to move past this experience - or even process the experience - without reliving it.

As a victim of trauma, you may end up struggling with severe mental health disorders. As a result, you might resort to abusing alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism and to self-medicate the signs and symptoms of your mental illness.

JAMA Psychiatry, for instance, published data that suggested that over 30 percent of the people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder end up developing major depressive disorder.

Some of the incidents that could give rise to trauma include but are not limited to:

Symptoms of Trauma

If you suffer child abuse and neglect and become traumatized by the experience, there is a high risk that you may display any of the following behavioral and psychological symptoms:

These symptoms of trauma will arise due to the neglect and abuse that you suffered during your childhood. Later on in your teens and adulthood, you might be affected severely and negatively. As a result, this could affect various areas of your life, mostly in negative ways.

Childhood Trauma and Addiction

Substance abuse and chemical dependence comes in various ways. However, research studies now show that these issues are often linked to childhood trauma - especially that you experienced during the early years of your life.

Whether you develop crippling substance abuse or you drink alcohol excessively, it is important that you address the issues from your child abuse experiences before you can overcome your addiction.

According to the NIH, sustaining trauma during childhood could increase your risk of developing a substance use disorder involving alcohol. other data figures show that there is a direct link between marijuana abuse and childhood trauma.

The National Conference on Legislatures, on the other hand, release a finding showing that there a relationship between the development of opioid abuse, dependence, and addiction with childhood adversity.

These risks often arise from many different factors. For instance, suffering trauma, abuse, and neglect during childhood might mean that you continue craving community, acceptance, and stability in your home life. As a result, you might try to look for it somewhere else. This could increase your likelihood of spending more time with other people who might have a toxic influence on your life. You could also start abusing drugs and alcohol to gain the sense of solidarity and acceptance that you are looking for.

Substance abuse and addiction is also chronic in nature. This means that the early behaviors you were engaging in could easily follow you into your later years and adulthood.

In other instances, you might fail to acknowledge, understand, recognize, and process this trauma effectively. As a result, it could manifest itself in other self-destructive ways - including but not limited to substance abuse and addiction. This is why you need early intervention to ensure that the entire trauma-related process is properly treated and managed.

Domestic violence is the other type of child abuse and trauma that often leads to substance abuse and addiction. This could have a direct influence on the formation of a substance use disorder, or addiction. According to data from the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence, domestic abuse could increase the right of developing chemical dependency.

Emory University, on the other hand, released another study that showed a close relationship between emotional, physical, and psychological abuse and neglect to the development of alcohol and drug addiction. This could be as a result of the emotional dysregulation that arises as a result. According to this research, trauma forms due to the direct child abuse that occurred or witnessing abuse and violence in the home environment.

Getting Help

If you suffered child abuse during your formative years and have been abusing drugs or drinking alcohol excessively, you should seek help from an addiction treatment and rehabilitation facility that offer trauma-informed care.

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