Femke Buisman-Pijlman, Senior Lecturer in Addiction Studies at the University of Adelaide, has co-written a piece in The Conversation stating that exposure to traumatic experiences in childhood is a common link to addiction and mental health issues in later life.
While the news will come as little surprise to some, it does reinforce the theory, that for many, addiction is the result of childhood abuse.
Buisman-Pijlman believes that exposure to trauma in childhood and adolescence has a negative impact on the development of the brain when it’s most vulnerable.
Trauma can encompass experiences such as emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, neglect, and the sudden loss of a parent or caregiver.
Buisman-Pijlman said: “Early life adversity is a major risk factor for the development of psychological and behavioural problems later in life.
“Higher rates of depression, suicidality, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and aggressive behaviour have been reported in adults who experienced childhood maltreatment.
“Traumatic childhood events also contribute to increased drug use and dependence.”
While it is important to stress that not all children who suffer traumatic abuse develop mental illness, it is a legitimate causal link to addictive behaviour witnessed in present-day addicts.
The development of PTSD and addiction is also influenced by genetic make-up and the regulation of chemicals in the brain, such as cortisol and oxytocin.
Oxytocin is a hormone naturally produced by the brain, commonly called the “love hormone” as it promotes sociability, emotional regulation, and bonds between a mother and child.
Cortisol is a steroid hormone with myriad functions, yet it is greatly involved in stress regulation.
Positive or negative experiences early in life can shape the oxytocin system, with exposure to adversity damaging the normal regulation of oxytocin and upping cortisol release.
Ergo, those afflicted with trauma in their early years struggle with feelings of calm and love, while feeling excessively anxious a lot of the time.