Addictions and Trauma

There is a strong link between childhood trauma and addictions, demonstrated by the ACEs study and many other international studies.  Surprisingly, people with complex childhood experiences may not recognise their childhood was difficult, or have few memories of their childhood, but come to therapy for help with addictions.

One clue is -at what age did the person start with their addictive patterns? Commonly in my service people report starting very young- early or pre teens. Often people will have a false or distorted memory – like ” we were very close as a family” . However when you ask people if they ever felt afraid or witnessed things that made them uncomfortable, a different story may gradually emerge. Or, when you ask who they went to when they were sick or worried, there is a answer like ” it must have been mum” but with no specific details as to how that person cared for them. Another clue is an early history of anxiety or depression, or parents that were absent, violent, had addictions or were not reliable.

There are many addictions today including the addiction to control, the addiction to internet, screens or pornography, addictions to substances or behaviours that are high risk, addictions to prescribed or non-prescribed medications, gambling, workaholism, food addiction, sex addiction etc. The main question to understand is: How has this addiction helped the person to survive uncomfortable experiences or emotions. For example, is addiction to games a way for young people to survive a difficult home or school situation?

Often the addiction starts as a wonderful relief, but later becomes a problem in its own right. Without an “off” button, the person ends up with other problems which become worse over time.

There are many addiction resources available online today but I suggest that since the cause of addictions is often relational, that people consider which relationships or groups could support recovery. Therapy helps too. There are some links on my resources page for free services to help with addictions. Many people recover from addictions, and are able to also heal the underlying trauma. Like giving up smoking, its important to keep trying. Most people don’t get the addiction sorted the first time!