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Healing the Wounds: Understanding the Connection Between Trauma and Addiction

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“What causes addiction?”, is one of the most deeply explored and researched questions. Why would someone persistently engage in behaviours that inevitably lead to suffering in the long term? Clearly, there is no one answer to it. However, a growing body of research and clinical evidence suggests that addiction is often intertwined with experiences of trauma. Trauma, whether stemming from childhood adversity, interpersonal violence, or other traumatic events, can profoundly impact an individual’s susceptibility to addiction and their journey towards recovery.

Addiction has long been viewed through the lens of “bad choices,” subsequently ostracising those struggling with any form of addictive behaviours. In truth, no one wants to be an addict. Dr. Gabor Maté, a distinguished expert in addiction, challenges this perspective, asserting that the notion of addiction stemming from “bad choices” is profoundly shortsighted. He elucidates that addiction is a coping mechanism aimed at alleviating the pain inflicted by childhood trauma. It’s an attempt at self-medication, seeking temporary relief from overwhelming emotions and distressing memories.

During early childhood, a pivotal developmental phase where the brain is malleable, every experience leaves its mark, shaping neural circuits. When a child experiences neglect or abuse—whether physical, emotional, or sexual—it significantly impacts brain development, potentially predisposing them to addiction. These adverse childhood experiences can disrupt the formation of secure attachments and healthy coping mechanisms. They can also affect the neural pathways involved in regulating stress, emotions, and decision-making, contributing to dysregulation and impeding an individual’s capacity for self-regulation, thus perpetuating the cycle of addiction.