Child Abuse Readies the Brain for Later Issues

childhood trauma and abuse

It has long-since been known that childhood abuse significantly raises the risk of developing mental conditions such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and substance dependency in adulthood. Childhood maltreatment is often referred to as the tobacco industry of mental health, suggesting that early abuse is a great indicator of mental issues in adulthood just as long-term smoking directly generates a variety of predispositions for physical disease. While many previously conducted studies utilized brain scans in order to clearly show the neurological effects of childhood abuse, one study in particular (the largest ever performed), found specific changes in the brains of young adults who were abused or neglected as children. Major alterations in and around the hippocampus region of the studied brains confirmed that victims of early childhood abuse and neglect were left exceedingly m ore vulnerable to certain disorders later on in life.

Childhood Trauma Linked to Addiction, Depression, and PTSD

In this specific study, subjects with known substance dependency issues were omitted, seeing as habitual drug and alcohol use alone has been proven to alter neurological functioning and construction. 16 percent of all participants had suffered from three or more types of childhood abuse, including verbal abuse, neglect, and physical abuse. Of this percentage, a whopping 40 percent were currently afflicted with PTSD, and a staggering 53 percent had suffered from severe depression. Amongst the remainder of the participants (those who had suffered but one type of abuse throughout childhood), 7 percent showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and 25 percent had struggled with major depression at one point or another. Regardless of whether or not these young adults had actually developed diagnosable psychological disorders, the effects of early abuse could be clearly noted in their brain scans. Individuals who had experienced significant maltreatment early on showed a volume reduction of about 6 percent in two areas of the hippocampus, and 4 percent in brain regions called the subiculum and presubiculum.

Damaged Hippocampus Leads to Inability to Handle Stress

Previously, it had been determined that stressful experiences early on in life drastically impaired the hippocampus, making stressful situations exceedingly more difficult to cope with later on in life. Essentially, those who had undergone childhood abuse had been mentally damaged in such a way that left them ill-equipped to effectively handle more taxing events and experiences in adulthood. This more recent studied further confirmed the relationship between early abuse and the development of specific disorders such as addiction, PTSD, and depression. The subiculum directly affects all of these conditions. It receives information from the hippocampus and helps to regulate biochemical and behavioral stress responses. When stress hormone levels are exceptionally high, cells within the regions of the brain that typically work to stop the production of such hormones are killed off – resulting in a counterproductive and permanently damaging cycle. Long term dysregulation results in the slow progression of psychological issues.

Effects of Childhood Abuse Can Be Reversed

In less scientific terms – early childhood trauma seriously screws with the parts of the brain that help to regulate stress. Not only does this make coping with stress more difficult later on in life, but the damage done makes maltreated children more susceptible to developing addiction, depression, and PTSD. Addicts and alcoholics, more often than not, underwent some variation of traumatic experience early on in life – either in childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood. This has been known for quite some time. When the system that regulates stress gets all screwed up, feelings of intense fear and anxiety tend to occur more frequently and be far more overwhelming. The parts of the brain that are affected by early trauma also making feeling pleasure more difficult. Victims of abuse will often reach towards chemical substances in attempts to simply feel better; to be happy, and to feel the general sense of well-being that has seemingly alluded them since the trauma occurred. This is why so many addicts are alcoholics are found to have unaddressed, underlying trauma. The two tend to go hand-in-hand.

What can be done? Identifying and therapeutically addressing the trauma in a safe and professional environment has proven a necessary component of long-term recovery. In many cases, substance dependency and another co-occurring mental disorder such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder will present themselves simultaneously – and because all can often be linked to childhood trauma, once the trauma is resolved a solid foundation for comprehensive recovery can be successfully instilled. We at Next Chapter work tirelessly to uncover and tackle all underlying contributing factors, allowing each of our clients a true shot at lifelong sobriety. For more information, please contact us today.