Does a child’s upbringing make a difference to whether they develop an addiction? Yes, of course. But why?
Population studies confirm that the degree of addiction people have is clearly related to the degree of trauma experienced in their childhoods.
What counts as ‘trauma’? Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional abuse, or neglect), the death of a parent, a parent being addicted, a parent being mentally ill, a parent being jailed, violence in the family, or a divorce.
And the risk builds as a child experiences more of these traumas. Physician and criminologist Gabor Mate in Canada says that having 6 or more of these adversities raises the odds of having a drug-injecting addiction by a factor of 46 compared to someone who had none.
He believes that drug use (or other addictive behaviour involving food, sex, gambling, shopping, etc.) is an escape from the inevitable pain coming from these bad experiences, and the evidence shows that more pain leads to more addiction.
Further, in childhood our still-developing brain circuits are being shaped, including those related to reward and pleasure. A susceptible brain, formed in childhood, increases the risk that an addiction can develop later when encountering alcohol and other drugs, or other rewarding activities.
What can protect a child from these ill effects? Obviously, preventing the traumas in the first place where possible. But the value of nurturing, connected, attuned, emotionally available adults cannot be underestimated.
More on this next time...
Reference: All in the Mind (ABC Radio National): The Addicted Mind, 23 August 2015
- Headspace, the national youth mental health organisation, has extended its phone line to support parents who are concerned about the mental health and wellbeing of their child. The extension of the support and information line comes as new headspace research found family is a significant influence when young people are seeking help for mental health issues, particularly for young men. Phone 1800 650 890.
- Teens – Breaking Down the Wall is a free 3-week group for parents of teenagers
SESSION1: Understanding your teenager. SESSION 2: Skills and strategies for a calmer home, communication and conflict resolution. SESSION 3: Keeping the relationships positive and looking after yourself. Saturdays: 14th, 21st & 28th November, 10am – 12.30pm, at Richmond Neighbourhood Centre, Phone 4588 3555