Children who have happy relationships with their parents also have functioning circuitry in the brain. They show healthy attachment and development of emotions. But children who experience stress and trauma have changes in their brain circuitry that causes susceptibility to addiction.
Alterations in the Brain Due to Childhood Trauma and the Resulting Addictions
A study of childhood trauma documents the change in brain circuitry function and the resulting susceptibility to addiction. This study documented that deprivation of positive relationships in early childhood increased the chances of addiction.
In a study of mice pups, changes in neurotransmitters happened within one week of being separated from the mother. Further studies of adult humans showed that maternal deprivation increases cortisol levels. Cortisol is the stress hormone and increased levels will shrink the hippocampus. This will cause memory loss and inability to process emotions.
Other Brain Centers Affected by Childhood Trauma and Addictions
Many addicts have experienced childhood trauma; physical, emotional, or sexual. These traumas affect six more areas of the brain and the neurotransmitters produced.
- Opioid System throughout the Brain: Regulates pain, emotions, and addiction.
- Mesolimbic Dopamine System: Regulates the reward system.
- Prefrontal Cortex: Self-regulation.
- Amygdala-Hypothalamus-Autonomic Nervous System: Fight-or-flight response.
- Brainstem: Serotonin production for sense of well-being.
- Posterior Pituitary Gland: Oxytocin production for bonding.
When these areas are effected, the person becomes susceptible to chemical and emotional addictions to try to feel euphoric and escape pain.
ACE: Adverse Childhood Experiences (Trauma) and the Resulting Addictions
The CDC reports that ACEs are common. In a survey of addicted adults, 2/3 have at least one ACE in their history. One in five adults reported three or more ACEs. In the first ACE study, each instance of the ten categories of trauma increase the chance for substance abuse between two and fourfold. Those adults who have suffered five or more ACEs had 7-10 times greater risk of substance abuse.
The reason for increased chance of substance abuse deals with stress and increased opiate craving. Stress decreases the activity of dopamine receptors. Dopamine receptors regulates the reward system of the brain and emotions. As dopamine is reduced in the system, cravings for drugs increases to self-soothe.
Stress Factors that Contribute to Childhood Trauma and Addictions
Stress is experienced at any age. A baby cries when it needs attention. This is a response to the stress of being hungry and not able to feed itself. As the infant grows, there will be other kinds of stress to manage.
- The Unknown or Uncertainty
- Ignorance or Lack of Information
- Loss of Control
- Emotional, Physical, and Sexual Conflict
- Emotional or Physical Isolation
People who experience high levels of stress forget or deny pain. Abandonment, abuse, and neglect are stress factors that lead to addiction.
Childhood Trauma and the Importance of Addiction Recovery
Identifying childhood trauma is a critical step to getting help with addiction recovery. Once identified, many treatments can help the recovering addict heal. Addiction Treatment for Trauma outlines modalities to help relieve the pain.
Childhood Trauma Therapy and Addiction Recovery
Childhood trauma is common and one should not be ashamed when needing help to deal with the aftermath. Contact a recovery program with trauma support to heal from the trauma-addiction cycle. Northlake Recovery in Southern Florida is ready to support your journey to healing. Call Northlake Recovery at (561)-770-6616.