Childhood trauma has been shown to increase the risk of many negative behaviors in adulthood, including risky sexual behaviors and substance abuse. Another risk is an increased likelihood of developing a mental disorder such as depression, anxiety or a combination of disorders. A 2013 study examined the connection between alcohol addiction and abuse and victimization during childhood.
The study provides important information about the alcohol abuse that can stem from childhood abuse, comparing patients seeking treatment for drinking problems with participants that had no history of problems with alcohol. The groups were examined to determine whether any of five types of abuse had occurred at any time during childhood: emotional, physical, sexual abuse, emotional neglect and physical neglect. The researchers also measured the severity of any trauma that had occurred during childhood. Finally, the participants were evaluated for the appearance of certain personality traits.
The analysis showed that childhood abuse or neglect was much more common among men and women that were seeking treatment for alcohol abuse. The severity of their drinking problems was directly correlated to the severity of the abuse they experienced. Among the types of trauma evaluated emotional abuse and neglect were the two types most often experienced by those that also had drinking problems.
The findings hold important implications for understanding the connection between trauma and alcohol abuse. First, genetics cannot be used as a sole explanation for the development of an addiction to alcohol. Second, in cases of a history of childhood trauma the trauma needs to be addressed during treatment.
Does Personality Play A Part?
In addition to looking at childhood abuse and later drinking behaviors, the researchers also examined the personality traits of the participants. Among those assessed, those that had experienced trauma in childhood also had the highest levels of anxiety, depression and anger. In addition, the participants with a history of childhood victimization had an increased level of impulsivity.
Impulsiveness has been identified as a risk factor for alcohol abuse. In the case of victims of childhood trauma, that impulsiveness could lead to choosing to drink as a way to self-medicate against negative feelings associated with the abuse.
Grief and loneliness are also likely contributors to using drinking as a way to cope. These factors were not examined in the study, but they are often cited by victims of childhood abuse. Victims may reference feelings of loneliness and isolation as adults, and they may also grieve the loss they experienced in not receiving adequate love and support as a child.
It may be difficult to determine a set number of criteria that can identify an alcohol addiction. However, an individual that experienced a traumatic childhood may benefit from prevention strategies to help identify warning signs that drinking has become problematic.