Child Abuse and Addiction

Child Abuse and Addiction. Psychology Fanatic article header image

Addiction can strike any family, person or circumstance. The complexity of influences astounds even the most seasoned social scientist. An otherwise strong, resilient person can drift into dangerous behaviors when the stars of influence align. However, we are fooling ourselves if we equate wide spread vulnerability with equal susceptibility. Some influences damage the soul much more than others. Child abuse and addiction are associated. Childhood neglect and abuse weakens internal protections from outside dangers, leaving the adolescent and young adult much more vulnerable to menacing coping strategies that further erode their well-being and chances of recovery.

The idea that capitalism offers equal opportunity for all is a farce. Capitalism offers opportunity based on merit. We are not blank slates with unmanipulated freedom to choose good or evil. Those born into luxury and opportunity prefer to believe they are self-made successes. The Donald Trumps (and George W. Bushes) of the world are not self-made success stories. Their fortunes grew from the fortunes they inherited from their families. This is a different game than those that struggle to acquire a roof, car and food from humble beginnings that limits opportunity. We compete in a harsh economy where many are weighted with childhood deprivation and are expected to succeed against those given rich and plentiful beginnings.

“However, we are fooling ourselves if we equate wide spread vulnerability with equal susceptibility. Some influences damage the soul much more than others.”

~T. Franklin Murphy

Childhood Neglect and Emotional Regulation

In their stimulating book, Ghosts from the Nursery, Robin Karr-Morse and Meredith Wiley write, “Absent adequate nurturing by an emotionally competent caregiver, the baby faces an unpredictable tide of unregulated emotions.” (2014, location 123). Science supports these findings. A wide range of studies support the hazardous impact of instability and violence in the childhood home. Healthy development does not demand perfection, but the home must provide an adequate safety zone where the mind can grow, preparing for the demands of adulthood.

rRsearch has linked childhood abuse and neglect to a variety of negative impacts on the child’s life. These victims are more prone to depression (Gibb, Butler, & Beck, 2003Kaplow & Widom, 2007), criminal behavior (Dutton & Hart, 1992Haapasalo & Moilanen, 2004Lisak & Beszterczey, 2007), and addiction (Mullings, Hartley, & Marquart, 2004). These delicate children have no say in their developmental environments. An evolved society understands this and seeks to resolve the injustices, providing avenues of escape from this perpetuating inequality. We see the perpetrators (the unhoused and those suffering from addiction) and we accuse, implying personal choice; but see the child with compassion and understanding.

The adult was once the child. The child will be the adult. Childhood abuse contributes to lack of resources in the adult to combat stress. When emotions are out of control, addiction becomes a more likely happening their young lives.

Children adapt to harsh environments, typically relying on coping strategies to lessen the impact. These coping strategies, while partially effective for their young minds, intrude on adult success.

“A frequent explanation of how childhood abuse affects development is associated with coping strategies. As a way to deal with painful memories and block out negative thoughts and feelings, coping strategies such as substance use and/or abuse, risky sexual behavior, and overeating may occur” (Sikes & Hays, 2010).

SAMSA national help line

Seeking Solutions to Assist with Recovery

We need to quit micro-examinations of those suffering from addictions and seek to provide effective and available pathways to healing. We aren’t going to eliminate every social ill; but we can address many, tackling addiction with helpful programs for the drug and alcohol dependent adult and programs to educate young parents, giving youngsters a better chance for normalcy in their developmental years. When we write off large segments of society because we hold to some magical beliefs of equality, we create a larger divide, mocking the very principles of fairness we espouse to believe in.

In our self-righteousness, we overly concern ourselves with those that will misuse medically proven remedies to assist addiction. We adopt strong structures of regulation to effectively prevent access to helpful medications to those that most need it. Methadone clinics require a difficult coordinated jumping through hoops far beyond the organizational skills of those suffering from addiction. We chide with our ignorant righteousness, “if they really wanted to quit, they would be committed to the lengthy and complicated demands.” Yet we furiously attack any regulatory obstacles to medical treatment for other diseases.

This is because we still excuse the social factors contributing to addiction and over simplify the cause as self-administered.​ Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, while not scientifically based, have a structure that is an example for other programs—it’s accessible. Consequently, the struggling soul can easily slip into a meeting just out of curiosity, a desire for something more, or as part of a structured plan for change.

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A Few Words by Psychology Fanatic

Instead of the blustering noise from the White House, suggesting that the negotiations with China to make fentanyl illegal will be a game changer, we need to refocus our attention at home. Illegality of drugs has a proven history of not solving the deeper psychological issues of addiction. We know child abuse increases vulnerability for future addiction. Markedly, we need resources designated to help these families. programs for these children. Locking people up or providing abbreviated classes on addiction also fail. A five-billion-dollar wall will not dry the flow of illicit drugs into a hungry market. The principles of capitalism remind that as long as there is a demand, supply will oblige. Our evolving society can do better. Accordingly, we can provide easier access to better programs. We can provide training and assistance to young at-risk parents and children.


Dutton, D. G., & Hart, S. D. (1992). Evidence for long-term, specific effects of childhood abuse and neglect on criminal behavior in men. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 36, 129-137.

Gibb, B. E., Butler, A. C., & Beck, J. S. (2003). Childhood abuse, depression, and anxiety in adult psychiatric outpatients. Depression and Anxiety, 17, 226-228.

Haapasalo, J., & Moilanen, J. (2004). Official and self-reported childhood abuse and adult crime of young offenders. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 31, 127 149.

Kaplow, J. B., & Widom, C. S. (2007). Age of onset of child maltreatment predicts long-term mental health outcomes. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 116, 176-187.

Karr-Morse, R., Wiley, M. S. (2014) Ghosts from the Nursery: Tracing the Roots of Violence.  Atlantic Monthly Press. Kindle Edition. 

Lisak, D., & Beszterczey, S. (2007). The cycle of violence: The life histories of 43 death row inmates. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 8, 118-128.

Mullings, J., Hartley, D., & Marquart, J. (2004). Exploring the Relationship Between Alcohol Use, Childhood Maltreatment, and Treatment Needs Among Female Prisoners. Substance Use & Misuse, 39(2), 277-305.

Sikes, A., & Hays, D. G. (2010). The Developmental Impact of Child Abuse on Adulthood: Implications for CounselorsAdultspan Journal, 9(1), 26.

Widom, C., Marmorstein, N., & White, H. (2006). Childhood victimization and illegal drug use in middle adulthood. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 20, 394-403.

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