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The Gateway Drug

When something traumatic happens to us, it is hard to forget and it usually becomes one of our core memories that help to shape us into the person we are as an adult. While happy and positive memories also help shape us, they are more easily forgotten and can be overshadowed by trauma. Childhood trauma is one of the leading reasons why people struggle with addiction.  

Even though some people see addiction as a conscious choice, there are things happening in the brain that may convince a person that drugs or alcohol is their only option. According to the Gateway Foundation, when a child suffers trauma, their brain may develop some abnormalities because of the high levels of cortisol and other hormones caused by stress. These hormones, typically associated with our fight or flight response, are necessary and helpful when we are in a dangerous situation, but if they are released too often then they can become toxic and negatively affect the brain. A child’s brain is so sensitive during their developmental years that childhood trauma could cause behavioral issues, memory loss, impaired judgement or other long term mental illnesses like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

For those who don’t have solid and healthy coping mechanisms, turning to substance abuse is an easy fix, however it is only temporary. People who suffer from trauma will try to self medicate with drugs or alcohol, but they will usually end up becoming tolerant to their drug of choice which makes their mental state even worse. The main problem is that when someone has an addiction, the focus is on fixing the addiction and the addiction only. However, fixing the addiction is not fixing the root of the problem, which is the trauma. Unless a person gets help to overcome their trauma and learn healthy coping mechanisms, then they will probably keep reverting back to substance abuse whenever they feel triggered. 

In a way, substance abuse represents survival for a lot of trauma victims. Self medicating seems to be the only solution for them because it is the only thing numbing their pain or at least masking it. Self-medicating is the backbone for addiction and is the reason why most people get addicted. Researcher Vincent Felitti found that if you have four or more adverse childhood experiences then you are 500% more likely to abuse alcohol, five or more and you are seven to ten times more likely to abuse illicit drugs, and if you experience six or more you are 46 times more likely to abuse IV drugs compared to those who have no adverse childhood experiences. 

Trauma is something that a lot of people experience, but it looks different for everybody. Some types of trauma include physical and sexual assault, parental neglect, bullying or accidents and natural disasters like car crashes or floods. Plus, having to experience things like poverty, major historical events or racism as a child can play a part in developing an addiction. 

Ensuring kids have a loving, healthy environment to grow up in will give their brain a chance to develop correctly so they will be able to handle all their problems in a healthy way when they become an adult. Drugs and alcohol are a temporary solution to a life-long problem. Close the gateway to addiction by stopping childhood trauma in its tracks, or at least get your child the help they need after a traumatic event to guarantee they will be able to cope in healthy ways as an adult. 


By Jessica Lee





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