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Is substance abuse a coping mechanism for childhood abuse?
Oct 17 2019

Is substance abuse a coping mechanism for childhood abuse?

Addiction Drug Addiction Substance Abuse

It can be easy to look at a teen using drugs or abusing alcohol and think that they made a choice to harm themselves. But what if it is a coping mechanism? What if this person couldn’t find or access any other form of help and this is the only way they know to escape from an unseen pain?

Sadly, this is true in most of the cases. Drugs and alcohol often take the place of proper treatment which can be medication, therapy, or both. Teens indulging in substance abuse may be using it as a coping mechanism for dealing with a mental illness or, in some cases, trauma, both current and past.

Past studies have shown that substance abuse among teens and young adults and child abuse is connected. Many people who abuse drugs and alcohol as teens or young adults may be doing so because they are incapable of dealing with their past pain anymore or they may have been using it as a coping mechanism since childhood. Either way, it has been demonstrated that child abuse raises the risk of physical, mental, and psychological consequences that a person will have to deal with during their lifetime.

Types of child abuse

Most parents wouldn’t imagine beating their child or neglecting to feed them and yet it happens every day across the U.S. Every year, child protection agencies deal with more than 6.6 million children who face child abuse or neglect. Some of the adversities commonly faced by children were:

  • Physical abuse (28.3 percent)
  • Sexual abuse (20.7 percent)
  • Emotional neglect (14.8 percent)
  • Emotional abuse (10.6 percent)
  • Physical neglect (9.9 percent)

Apart from this, children also suffer verbal abuse, neglect by family members, conflict within the family including domestic violence and parental divorce, economic hardships faced by family, parental substance abuse or mental illness, etc.

The toll that it takes on the child varies depending on how old the child is, the type, frequency, severity, and duration of maltreatment they suffer, and the relationship between the child and the abuser.

No matter what kind of abuse or neglect a child faces, there are consequences. These can be physical (bruises, cuts, broken bones, poor physical health), psychological (poor mental and emotional health, social difficulties), and/or behavioral (juvenile delinquency, drug abuse, sexual risks.) There will also be societal costs as children are provided with foster care in certain situations and in others there are added health costs, expenses for juvenile delinquency and adult criminal activity, etc.

Child abuse and substance abuse

Child abuse and neglect can lead to serious mental, physical, and psychological consequences in the long run, some of which lead to mental health disorders or substance use as a coping mechanism.

For those children who have been maltreated, at least 43 percent have emotional or behavioral problems, according to the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE). These problems are the ones that lead to substance abuse and in some cases addiction. More than half of the children reported as being maltreated are at the risk of repeating grades, substance abuse, delinquency, truancy, or pregnancy. These children also have an increased risk of smoking cigarettes, abusing alcohol, or abusing illicit drugs. For those males who have 6 or more adverse experiences in childhood, the likelihood of using intravenous drugs such as heroin, opiates, or cocaine increases by an astounding 4000 times.

Child abuse, even if it lasts for a short time, negatively impacts someone’s life for a long time. These consequences can and will include higher risks for mental health disorders, drug abuse, and alcohol abuse. On top of this, abused or neglected individuals are much more likely to develop a pattern of substance abuse than those who aren’t. This was proven by a study that examined the likelihood of those teens and young adults indulging in substance abuse who had faced childhood abuse. The study found that substance abuse and problems had a positive relationship with three types of childhood abuse – emotional, sexual, and physical.

Seeking treatment for addiction

According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health report, there were approximately 916,000 adolescents aged between 12 to 17 who were suffering from substance use disorder (SUD). Addiction to drugs if left untreated for a long time can lead to serious physical and mental health disorders. Drug addiction requires a medically supervised detox treatment to flush out the toxins from the body to prepare it for the ensuing treatment. This process is complemented by therapies and counseling sessions that teach the teen coping mechanisms.

Adeona Healthcare, the leading renowned rehab for teens aged between 12 to 17, offers evidence-based treatment approaches for the management of SUD in teens. To know more about our teen addiction treatment programs, call our 24/7 helpline (888) 997-3966 and speak to a representative. You can also chat online to get more information about other behavioral and mental health problems and treatments offered.