Childhood Abuse and Alcohol Addiction

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Kate Hall

Solicitor, Abuse

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According to Alcohol Change UK, there are 200,000 children living in England who have a parent who is dependent on alcohol. Alcohol consumption also costs the NHS £3.5 billion each year in England alone.

While alcohol can play a large social role in our lives, it can also affect our relationships with others when it becomes a problem.

Link between Childhood Trauma and Alcohol Abuse

Research has found that childhood abuse and trauma can increase the risk of developing mental health disorders and alcohol or drug addiction in adulthood.

Mental health problems and addiction can quite often go hand in hand, with those suffering from trauma using alcohol or drugs as a way of coping and suppressing the psychological impacts of the abuse. This can often create a vicious cycle that’s difficult to break – as increased alcohol and substance use can end up heightening feelings of depression and anxiety. It can also put a strain on relationships with partners, family members and friends.

At Simpson Millar, we’ve supported many abuse survivors who have battled problems with alcohol alongside dealing with the abuse they’ve been through. We understand how challenging it can be to come to terms with your trauma whilst also battling addiction.

We also understand the impact addiction can have on your ability to start or pursue a claim, so we are here to support you throughout the process.

If you’d like support and legal advice about abuse, please get in touch with our Abuse Solicitors who will be happy to help you.

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Why Childhood Trauma Increases the Risk of Alcohol Abuse

While childhood trauma doesn’t guarantee that you will develop an alcohol or drug addiction, it has been shownto increase the risk.

Young children’s brains and bodies are still developing, so if they experience trauma, they usually don’t have the coping mechanisms or the maturity to process what has happened to them.

An event or incident that wouldn’t be traumatic to an adult, may be perceived as a traumatic event for a young child. As they are too young to understand what has happened or how it has affected them, the lasting effects can stay with them for years to come. As a result, they may then search for ways to escape these feelings.

It’s well known that alcohol is often used as a way of escaping feelings and coping with traumatic events. Trauma that we experience as a young child can cause long-term mental health issues too, which may also lead to self-medicating through alcohol or drug abuse.

Signs of Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol addiction can affect everyone in different ways and it’s not always easy to spot the signs.

If you’re worried about someone close to you, or about your own drinking habits, here are some things to look out for:

  • Inability to stop drinking or say no to alcohol
  • Loss of interest in everyday activities
  • A strong craving for alcohol
  • Problems sleeping
  • Mental health problems, such as anxiety or depression
  • Changes in mood e.g. becoming more irritable or secretive
  • Relationship problems with family, friends or a partner
  • Drink driving
  • Increased alcohol tolerance levels
  • Withdrawal symptoms e.g. shaking, sweating and nausea
  • Attempting to hide drinking habits from others
  • Neglecting responsibilities e.g. work or childcare

It’s common for those struggling with alcohol addiction to deny there’s a problem or become defensive if someone close to them tries to bring it up. If you’re worried about someone close to you, it’s important to talk to them calmly, with empathy and without any criticism or blame.

If you’re worried about your own dependency on alcohol, there are plenty of support services out there to help you. You should also consider talking to a partner, friend or family member about your concerns. Remember, there is support available for everyone who needs it.

Breaking the Cycle

In many cases, those who are the victims of abuse or traumatic events as children are worried about their children being subjected to the same abuse. But without realising, children of alcoholics are usually at an increased risk for developing emotional problems.

As such, the children of alcoholics can also develop an alcohol addiction, which causes a cycle. They may also be at an increased risk of depression, poor educational record, and anxiety.

For this reason, if you are struggling with an alcohol addiction and you have children,  it is important that they are also getting the support they need. For instance, their school may be able to offer some counselling to help them understand their feelings and what you, as their parent, are going through.

How Alcohol is Used to Cope

When someone turns to alcohol to try and cope with childhood trauma, they don’t usually intend on using alcohol for negative purposes. In many cases, alcohol addiction comes from an intention of trying to find a way to cope or silence feelings and memories.

Here are some common reasons why people with childhood trauma use substances like alcohol:

Escape

When someone has experienced trauma, it can often lead to recurring memories or thoughts that are unwanted. Trauma can be triggered by smells, people, specific locations, and objects, which are in some way associated with the experience. Often, the victim of trauma will not necessarily understand why certain things are triggering, as they don’t yet understand the effects it has on them.

Alcohol can often serve as a way to silence those triggers and any unwanted thoughts that come with them., 

While this is only temporary, it offers the victim some sense of relief.

Coping Mechanism

Sometimes a traumatic experience or event can leave a person with pain that is unresolved.  In many cases of childhood trauma, they have never been able to express or process what happened to them or understand the impact that it had on them.

As a child, they most likely didn’t have a healthy coping mechanism or know where to start with understanding the event. As such, they can turn to alcohol or drugs as a way to self-medicate. Alcohol provides a temporary solution, as it removes either some or all of the pain for some amount of time. Although, alcohol can often worsen the effects of trauma over time.

Creating Relationships

If someone has experienced trauma, whether that is as a child or adult, it can make it difficult for them to build meaningful connections with other people. As a result, it becomes tough for them to form relationships, including romantic partners and friends.

Alcohol can often increase a sense of confidence and reduce anxiety, allowing the victim of trauma to socialise with others. It can also help you to find common ground to form connections.

Euphoria

When people drink alcohol, it can provide a euphoric feeling. Many people who have experienced trauma look for a way to feel better, which alcohol can temporarily help them achieve.

Take Back Control

After experiencing trauma, it can often leave someone feeling like they have no control over their life. Alcohol abuse can sometimes provide a sense of power, giving back some control. 

Redefining Identity

Much like losing a sense of control, people who have been subjected to traumatic events can often view themselves differently as they did before the incident. It can also impact how they view the world and everyone around them, including friends and family.

A traumatic event can completely reshape how someone thinks about themselves and how they look at life overall. This can be an isolating feeling and leave someone feeling like they are alone.

Alcohol abuse can give them a sense of redefining their identity and the impression that they can decide on who they want to be.

Where You Can Get Support

The first step is realising that you have a problem and that you need help. A great place to start is going to your GP for help, who can suggest a range of support options that are available to you.

As well as going to your GP for help, there are anonymous helplines and charities who can offer support for alcohol abuse and mental health problems.

Here is a list of some charities and organisations that can help:

If you are a survivor of abuse and you’re struggling, please know that we are always here to listen. If you’d like confidential legal advice and support about reporting your abuse to the police or making a claim, please get in touch with our dedicated Abuse Team.

References:

Alcohol Change UK (2000). Electric Putty. [online] Alcohol Change UK. Available at: https://alcoholchange.org.uk/

Alcohol Change UK. (n.d.). The Alcohol Change Report. [online] Available at: https://alcoholchange.org.uk/about-us/the-alcohol-change-report.

Bezrutczyk, D. (2019). Alcohol and Child Abuse: A Tragic Combination – AlcoholRehabGuide. [online] Alcohol Rehab Guide. Available at: https://www.alcoholrehabguide.org/blog/alcohol-and-child-abuse/.

Silvermist (2018). Linking Childhood Trauma And Addiction In Adulthood. [online] Silvermist Recovery. Available at: https://www.silvermistrecovery.com/2018/09/2019-guide-the-link-between-childhood-trauma-and/.

www.psychologytoday.com. (n.d.). Childhood Trauma and Alcohol Abuse: The Connection | Psychology Today United Kingdom. [online] Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-almost-effect/201307/childhood-trauma-and-alcohol-abuse-the-connection.

Szalavitz, M. (2012). How Childhood Trauma May Make the Brain Vulnerable to Addiction, Depression. [online] Time. Available at: https://healthland.time.com/2012/08/01/how-childhood-trauma-may-make-the-brain-vulnerable-to-addiction-depression/.

Kate Hall

Solicitor, Abuse

Areas of Expertise:
Abuse Claims

Kate works as a Solicitor in our Abuse Claims Department.

After completing her education at Leeds Beckett University in 2018, Kate decided to specialise in Abuse Claims. Within this department, she has gained experience dealing with Civil Claims against various institutions including local authorities, public schools, religious institutions and charitable organisations. This includes the Manchester Homes 2 Group Action and the claims against Manchester City Council for abuse at St Anne’s School. Kate has also successfully navigated claims through the Lambeth and Manchester City Redress Schemes.

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