Early Life Trauma, Addiction, and Psychedelic Medicine
Originally posted November 28, 2016
With research about addiction being conducted now more than ever, it’s becoming clear that addiction isn’t caused by drugs alone. Addiction’s a multi-faceted condition, and research has shown that the type of environment an individual was exposed to in their childhood years can play a major role in future substance abuse and vulnerability to addiction. A lot of this comes down to the way the brain develops in these influential early years. When a child develops, the brain is developing as well. And this brain development has a lot to do with how they react later in life.
How The Early Years of One’s Life Influences Their Future Say a child grows up in a stable, relatively stress-free environment. There’s a direct response in the brain that responds and adapts to outside stimuli. When the environment a child grows up is nurturing and supportive, children are better able to adapt (and feel secure) in a variety of different situations. When a child’s environment is non-supportive, however, adapting to different situations (during childhood and later in life) can pose some serious problems. Being abused, neglected, or experiencing frequent or high levels of stress when young actually inhibits brain development. All have serious potential to make it extremely difficult to deal with stress not only in childhood, but into the rest of the years of one’s life. What’s more is, high stress levels during the early, formative years leaves an individual more susceptible to substance abuse and addiction. The early years of someone’s life greatly influence what they’ll see in their future. Trauma is often held onto and is something that becomes deeply embedded in the subconscious mind. These subconscious memories play a large role in determining how one will react to stressful situations later in life, with the need to “escape” the unease one feels seem more urgent when there is a history of abuse.
Why Early Life Trauma Can Lead to Addiction Later in Life The Adverse Childhood Experience (ACEs) study was one that included 17,000 participants in California’s Kaiser Permanente insurance program. The study observed numerous different difficult childhood experiences including:
Emotional, Physical, and Sexual Abuse
Having an Addicted Parent
Having a Mentally Ill Parent
Having a Parent in Jail or Prison
Being Exposed to Domestic Violence
Death of a Parent
Losing a Parent to Divorce
The study found that the more ACE experience one has, the more likely they’ll end up having some kind of addiction. When comparing these results to children with no ACEs, a person with six or more is three times more likely to be a smoker. A child that has four or more ACEs is five times more prone to becoming an alcoholic and 60% more likely to be obese. A child with four or more ACEs is forty-six times more likely to be an IV drug user later on in life than a child with none. It’s believed that the more stress one experiences early in life, the more likely they’ll become an addict later in life. The accumulative effect of multiple stresses significantly increases the risk of addiction. Sexual abuse combined with neglect, for instance, makes one more prone to addiction than neglect or sexual abuse alone. Chronic humiliation in childhood is also something that can instigate addiction later on in life. This form of emotional abuse (such as a parent calling their child “stupid” or “worthless”) is something else that can cause deep emotional trauma that can be carried within the subconscious for years. As a child gets older, the need to numb the humiliation they (still) feel with drugs or alcohol can become more and more prevalent.
Getting In Touch With Early Life Trauma with Psychedelic Medicine While early life trauma certainly isn’t the only cause of addiction, it definitely has the potential to lead to substance abuse and dependency later on in life. Getting in touch with this trauma, however, can lead to significant changes in the way one perceives negative early life experiences. And, with the help of some psychedelic medicines, exploring the deeper part of the subconscious mind is something that often helps one connect to their pain in a completely different context. It’s this connection that can help one overcome not just past trauma, but the addiction spurred from it as well. According to renowned physician Dr. Gabor Mate (who adamantly believes the root of addiction can be traced back to childhood), the use of some psychedelics could “greatly increase” the success of addiction treatment when used in a safe, professional environment. He believes that positive support and psychotherapy should also be used in conjunction with psychedelic treatment. When taken in the right environment, he believes that psychedelics help one experience the brain in a different way, allowing them a way to differently experience themselves and the nature of their addiction. This isn’t to say a psychedelic experience is always going to be easy, but it can open an individual’s mind to the repressed memories that have led to their addiction. And it can also help them perceive these memories in a different way. Take ibogaine for instance. Ibogaine treatment not only helps one uncover repressed memories, but also can help one work through these memories and (when used in conjunction with psychotherapy) can help one permanently release them as well. Many people who’ve taken psychedelics to heal from addiction (and other issues), have reported that the experience equivalent to years of therapy…in about a week’s time. And while psychedelic therapy isn’t a magic cure for addiction, it’s certainly shown to help. The innate way certain psychedelics address early life trauma can help someone release exactly what it is that’s held them tied to the chains of addiction.