Perhaps it doesn’t come as a surprise to know that when a child has been abused in their family of origin, he or she is more vulnerable to developing an addiction to either drugs or alcohol. Studies related to drug addiction treatment show that adults who were abused as children tend to perceive the use of alcohol or drugs as a positive experience and were not able to identify the risks associated with substance use. Also, in the year 2000, there were over 2.7 million children who were reported as being abused, and of these cases, 879,000 confirmed the presence of some form of abuse.
Kyle’s story is an example of this. He was addicted to alcohol and heroin for 13 years. If it weren’t for an old time friend from the military who continued to stay in touch and lend his support, Kyle wouldn’t have ever entered substance abuse treatment. In a crucial moment of darkness and desolation, Kyle called his friend. However, the start to sobriety was a mess for him. There were deep feelings of shame, a terrible shyness, and an all around horrible feeling for being who he was that kept him from getting drug addiction treatment. He admits that those heavy feelings stem directly from his experience of physical abuse as a child. Finally, seven months after making the decision to get sober and calling his friend, and Kyle finally began drug detox.
It is important to point out that abuse and neglect of children can exist in families across all socioeconomic, religious, and ethnic groups. And it’s clear that there is a connection between abuse of children and the presence of addiction in families.
Families in which there is substance abuse are more likely to experience abuse or are at a higher risk of abuse. Families that have members who abuse either drugs or alcohol are more likely to also have a history of either physical or sexual abuse. Members of those families are more likely to find themselves in substance abuse treatment.
The Child Welfare League of America (2001) recently found that substance abuse is present in 40-80 percent of families in which children are abuse victims. These statistics and past research have clearly made the connection between abuse of children and the presence of addiction in adolescence and later life.
According to studies of those who have been in drug addiction treatment, patterns seen in adults who have an addiction are similar to the patterns of those who have experienced childhood abuse. Examples of these patterns are:
- Beating yourself up for what you should have done, reacting to life versus being proactive when faced with a challenge
- Playing the role of victim or having a “poor me” attitude
- Holding on to resentments
- Engaging in wishful thinking and devaluing what you already have
- Expecting the worst
- Frequently experiencing fear or worry
- Feeling unworthy or lacking a healthy self image
- Perpetually pleasing others before meeting your own needs
- Looking for life satisfaction externally such as in sexual relationships, overeating, drugs, overworking, or in other excessive behavior
- Avoiding where you are right now by frequently thinking that the grass is greener on the other side. For example, moving out of town with the thought that it will be better there versus right where you are now.
Although the correlation between childhood abuse and addiction is not surprising, perhaps it might lead to the better understanding of patterns among families and individuals. A wider breadth of knowledge leads to enhanced treatment methods, meaningful public education, and the prevention of harm in our communities.
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