What happens to us during our childhood doesn't disappear when we become an adult. Our developing brains form strong connections and memories during our youngest years. These connections go on to shape how we feel about ourselves for our entire lifetime. Many people come from a warm, supportive environment that makes them feel confident, secure, and capable in the world. But there are millions of others whose experience can lead to trauma and addiction make it even more important to seek out specialized trauma-information addiction treatment later in life.
Childhood trauma happens to be one of the leading causes of mental illness in adulthood. It can also contribute to the development of a substance use disorder. Addiction is not something a happy person chooses. People use substances as a coping mechanism, even if they are not aware of that fact initially. Teenagers who start drinking and using drugs in high school are more likely to wrestle with addiction as adults. Such habits go on to form a cycle that clouds your judgment. They can also reshape how you see yourself, and stop you from living life fully.
Childhood Trauma and Addiction
The relationships you have with your caregivers, for example, parents, relatives, and teachers impact how you connect with others in adulthood. The ability to feel close to someone, trust them and share your emotions openly with them is related to your attachment style. There are four types of attachment styles:
- Secure: Confident, trusting, open, and safe.
- Anxious-Preoccupied: Worried about being abandoned, afraid of being disliked, and constantly questioning self-worth.
- Dismissive-Avoidant: Craves connection but pushes people away, afraid of rejection and struggles to express feelings.
- Fearful-Avoidant: Afraid of others, but always seeking validation; likely to be a people pleaser and deny true feelings.
People who grow up in households with abuse are more likely to develop a fearful or anxious attachment style. Dismissive attachment styles are often linked to people whose parents were neglectful. As children, they took their caregivers' lack of emotional availability as a sign their own feelings did not matter.
Experiencing any trauma, whether it is abuse, neglect, or simply feeling unloved, makes it hard to trust others and believe that we are worthwhile. The biggest sign of childhood trauma is a haunting question that someone repeatedly asks as an adult: Why would anyone love me?
How Unhealed Trauma Can Lead to Addiction
Because trauma affects a child's mind more intensely than an adult's, there are likely to be long-lasting impacts. Events that an adult may be able to process and recover from can become locked in a child's mind, ultimately impacting how they develop and feel about others and themselves. Research shows that childhood trauma can lead to mental illness and substance abuse in adulthood. 
Another major cause of addiction and childhood trauma is lack of support. Because childhood trauma impacts attachment styles, many people go on to wrestle with their relationships and struggle to get close to others. While adults may turn to loved ones for comfort after trauma, a child is often abused, neglected, and traumatized by the only people they have. Their sole source of security in the world becomes a constant source of fear, stress, and anxiety. They internalize this and go on to see other relationships with people as unsafe, fearing that their "damaged" or "broken" selves could never possibly be genuinely loved or valued.
Trauma involving being raised by parents with substance abuse problems can also lead to addiction later. Such environments where drinking and drug use are common inside the household can lead to children modeling the same behavior.
How Healing Takes Place
We are not condemned to relive history forever. The fact that we envision a different path from the one we are on shows that we can change. If you have been struggling with unhealed trauma and addiction, help is available through trauma-informed addiction treatment.
Therapy can be intimidating, but living the rest of one’s life in suffering is even scarier. Although it takes years to heal fully, you can transform your entire life in a matter of months by working with a qualified trauma therapist. You can nurture the child within, bring them the security and affirmation they always needed. You can learn how to support yourself and, eventually, how to let others support you, too.
No one's path to recovery is identical, but it all begins with the decision to reach out and seek help. Only when you are honest about the pain you feel can you start to heal from it. Trauma-informed addiction treatment, coupled with dual diagnosis rehab, can help you begin to heal from the inside out truly. If substance abuse affects you or someone you love, contact one of our professionals at Spring Gardens Recovery.
Samantha Nettleton, CCTP, CMHIMP is the Chief Operating Officer and Clinical Director for Spring Gardens Recovery. After completing and receiving her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Human Services (Concentrations in Mental Health & Addiction Counseling), she became licensed for the State of Florida as a Mental Health Counselor. She has also been a recovery coach since 2012. Samantha specializes in Trauma, Personality Disorders, Substance Abuse, Process Addictions, and Other Mental Health Disorders.