The Link: From Childhood Stress to Adult Addiction
When I was in school for massage therapy in Tucson, I took an elective course in which we visited and practiced on women who were living in a safe house. Both domestic violence and addiction were a part of these women’s past and the role we played, as massage therapists, in their recovery, was to provide safe, healing touch to people who might have long forgotten what that felt like. Treating these women was a humbling experience I am grateful to have been a part of. Women do not walk into a relationship knowing that it will be abusive, just like any addict does not take their first hit or first drink intending to become addicted. So where does it begin? How are some people more likely to become addicts or victims than others?
Extreme Stress and Addiction
Studies have shown that children who experience extreme stress are much more likely to become dependent on drugs later on in life than their less stressed adolescent counterparts. It is not too shocking to learn that children growing up with physical violence as a part of daily life are at a higher risk of addiction, but sadly enough, children of neglect are about as equally likely to abuse drugs later in life. Emotional and verbal abuse or neglect are as detrimental as physical abuse and cause children to experience extreme stress that they cannot process or handle because they are still to emotionally and psychologically immature.
There is a void where healthy, adult teaching and interaction should be, but instead many of these children grow up and as teenagers or young adults are trying and becoming dependent on alcohol or drugs. We are becoming more and more aware of just how broken our system is when it comes to treating addicts- we treat them as criminals instead of victims of a serious mental illness or disease.
Before beginning the study, former chief of preventative medicine, Dr. Felitti, hypothesized that incest would create the highest percentage of drug users later on. While his hypothesis was incorrect, he was surprised to find that incest was on the same level as abuse, neglect, etc.; but the one issue that soared a large margin of 15% above the others in terms of causal factors, was “chronic recurrent humiliation.”
War on Drug Addicts
Addiction specialist, Dr. Gabore Mate, said it best when he stated, “There’s no War on Drugs, because you can’t [wage a] war on inanimate objects. There’s only a war on drug addicts, which means that we’re warring on the most abused and vulnerable segments of the population.”
It could be safe to say that most all children will deal with some level of stress in their early developing years, which psychologists say can actually be beneficial in small increments. It may seem like we cannot do enough to keep our kids safe these days, but keeping them sheltered in a bubble from society in fear of them becoming addicts is not necessary either; to allow them to feel these smaller scale stressful situations can help prepare and teach children how to deal with stress in a healthy way and it is important to provide them with helpful coping mechanisms to do so.