Research shows that there are behavioral and thinking patterns that recovering addicts have in common with those who have experienced childhood abuse. Those who have experienced addiction and those who have experienced abuse seem to have the same patterns of thought. 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.
Alongside the above list, there are four typical thought patterns that those with a history of trauma and abuse as well as addiction tend to have. These include:
Overgeneralization: This is the tendency to draw broad conclusions based on very limited data. For example, an addict might say to him or herself, “I’m worthless because I did poorly on my English exam,” even though she has excelled in all of her classes and will likely do well in English too.
Selective Abstraction: This the pattern of attaching a negative bias to one piece of information and excludes other pieces of information that indicate the opposite. For instance, someone might think that he is a horrible father because his teenage son is rarely home. He is not taking into account that his son is in the middle of adolescence, a classic time for children to begin to pull away from their parents. He is excluding other pieces of information while focusing on one detail, and assigning a negative conclusion.
Arbitrary Inference: This is another form of reaching a conclusion without sufficient evidence. A depressed adolescent might think to herself that she is pathetic, that none of her teachers like her, and she is performing poorly in her classes, even though there is no evidence for this. Her teachers appreciate her and she is in fact doing well in school.
Magnification/Minimization: This is the tendency to exaggerate the negative and minimize the positive. For instance, a depressed individual might think to himself that he is a burden to others because of his health problems and that his presence isn’t worth anything. Although he might have an occasional health concern, he is magnifying it while also minimizing time spent volunteering in the community.
Furthermore, research points to a connection between the presence of child abuse in families and the use of drugs and alcohol. 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. 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.
In the year 2000, there were close to 2 million reports of child abuse to protective service agencies, meaning that over 2.7 million children were reported as being abused. Of these cases, 879,000 were confirmed to have the presence of some form of abuse. This translates to an approximate annual rate of 12.2 children per 1,000 under the age of 18 who reportedly experience abuse.
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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