Family Trauma and Addiction

When I started off my career, I started researching into the long-term effect of being raised in a home where people are struggling with one addiction or the other.

I needed this research as a basic tool for an adult child foundation I was into.

My findings during the research made me understand that a child absorbs all the things, both negative and positive, which goes on around him, and all those things stay with him till he grows up, and forms the basis for the kind of life the child would live as an adult.

As times went by, we began to fix the issues of reliance of a certain addiction as codependency, and later, children from other defective backgrounds were also classified under this codependency group, who require help.

The reason for this article is to share our findings, and make known the fact that many of the people who are have an excessive emotional or physiological reliance on a an addiction were mostly exposed to traumatic experiences while growing up, and many of the things they do are post traumatic responses.

We the word “trauma” is mentioned, people always imagine that it was caused by scenarios such as rape, violent shooting, natural disaster, war, and conflict. They do not understand that minor issues and happenings in one’s environment, especially that of a child, such as things that happen within a family circle can get the child traumatized.

However, in a family where addiction is rampant, there may be issues of physical and sexual abuse, which will create fear in a child’s heart. And living in constant fear as a child- in that period when one is still growing up will most definitely lead to trauma.

Family is a place of comfort, a place to run to when one is in danger, afraid or traumatised. But then, where would one turn to when family is the source of one’s fears? Trauma is a deeply depressing experience which causes emotional and psychological harm to the affected person. It reduces a person’s worth, self esteem and lives a scare which could turn out to become permanent. The response to trauma is always a need to run, to fight or to freeze. These responses are what children affected by trauma make a constant part of them. They grow up with these responses and its affects every fabric of their adult life.

When one becomes exposed to psychological stressors during childhood, it could make one become vulnerable to other addictions such as drugs, alcohol, food and some forms of illicit behavior.

The mind of the person becomes configured to think that these addictions would help reduce and anxiety one feels on the inside.

These addictions represent fight and flight, a fight against the emotional battle going on inside one’s mind, and a flight away from the stress that comes from thinking about those fears.

Almost every child born in a family tormented by an addiction or any other stressful circumstance often vows to himself to someone else that they would not be like the rest of the family. They always promise to do things differently and make sure that the circle doesn’t repeat itself, but at the end, most such people often end up living the same kind of life they swore against.

They mostly start off by trying to seek medical and spiritual help, but that most likely leads to a downward slope towards the same recurring circumstance.

When such child does not become an addict, often times, they respond to things the same way an addict would. They also become tolerant of some abnormal and /or kinky behavior.

Traumatic stress is often accompanied with lack of self esteem, which can be seen as the “freeze” aspect of the response cycle.

Another painful experience that comes with trauma is depression and anxiety. These problems are often chronic, and requires lots of help before they can go away.

These responses to stress seen as fight, flight and freeze are very normal biological responses and are very helpful when the stress is temporary and short term, but if it is stretched through a prolonged time, the body experiences an increased secretion of the hormone, cortisol, which would increase anxiety and depression.

Psychological stress and trauma which happens during childhood also affects the brain.

As one grows with this stress, one becomes very sensitive to stressful situations. There is also a dangerous change in the way the brain interprets situations around it. Due to this, one becomes prone to incessant mood swings and constant depression. This depression and constant fear comes as a result of an inbuilt pessimism and the disordered way the mind of the victim sees the world.

This way of thinking or viewing the world can be traced back to a life started off in a house where one was surrounded by addicts, violent and emotionally unstable people.

This situation is very disturbing and overwhelming, but the beautiful thing is that there is a chance of surviving it.

There is now hope for victims of trauma in trauma focused treatment programs, as long as they open up and talk about those histories of abuse and stress which could have led to the present traumatic response.

Some of the important and realistic goals for people responding to early life trauma include the following.

  • The victim must be able to withstand feeling that are uncomfortable without having to engage in a illicit behavior in order to fight the feelings.
  • The victim must be able suppress the need to react to events emotionally, and the part of the brain which controls the said flight, fight and freeze response must be calm until they are needed.
  • The patient must be able to focus and accept current and present situation, and not always fantasize or daydream about the future or always be in a state of reminiscing past occurrences in an obsessive manner.
  • The patient must be able to identify and do away with behaviors and thinking which are caused as a result of shame.
  • The patient must be able to set healthy and safe boundaries to what he does.
  • Patient must live within limits that would enable him respect the set boundaries.

Over the years, we have been able to study and identify the effects of addictions to members of a family, but many people have not been able to recover fully because trauma is not taken as a serious issue. These important components will make it easier for the patients and victims alike can recover successfully.