We often blame emotional trauma during childhood for negative occurrences later in life, like difficulty holding down a job, making friends or committing to marriage — and rightfully so. While there may be a tendency to excuse negative behavior as a result of emotional trauma of long ago, there is reason to take it into account when treating any mental disorder.
There’s a higher risk for mental health disorders and substance abuse
A study published in “Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research” concluded that abuse or neglect among children resulted in higher rates of substance abuse, depression, anxiety and suicide. Researchers stated, “childhood neglect or sexual, physical or emotional abuse is common among people undergoing treatment for alcoholism and may be a factor in the development of alcohol use disorders.” (1)
The scary effects of trauma
Trauma is defined as a stress that “causes physical or emotional harm from which you cannot remove yourself.” (1) But trauma is hard to quantify, and a traumatic situation impacts each person differently. It’s not so much what a therapist, family members, or society deems traumatic that matters, but how the victim feels and mentally reacts. Trauma can occur when a person witnesses something violent or scary, when he or she is abused or neglected, or when a situation and the feelings that arise makes one feel afraid or helpless.
As this study shows, over time, a person who has experienced emotional trauma may feel the need to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to take away the mental anguish. Other people may turn to substance abuse as a way to control something in their life, to reduce anxiety or to diminish feelings of anger or guilt. Most people who experience emotional trauma suffer from depression, anxiety and other mental disorders.
Intervening with trauma victims
Never underestimate the effects of emotional trauma on someone’s life. What we can do, however, is find ways to help victims of trauma. We can remove a person, particularly a child, from an abusive or neglectful environment. We can provide early intervention to victims of trauma, so they can work through their emotions in a healthy way. While it’s impossible to prevent any and all types of emotional scarring from happening, we can work to learn various coping strategies that help those who suffer deal with their feelings during and afterwards, so they avoid negative behaviors like drug or alcohol abuse or addiction.