Why can’t we admit that addiction is a byproduct of childhood trauma?

People often ask:

Why is your name David John, and your brother John Dennis?

They want to know what’s with the “John” theme.

The truth is a sad story. My dad wanted a little brother, and one day God gave him one.

But his brother, little John Dennis, still a baby, became sick.

“Dad was too cheap to take him to the doctor, and he died,” dad would tell me, repeating it like a broken record when I first returned home from Los Angeles in 2002.

Dad’s other brothers both are in heaven with him; his three sisters still are living. They denied my brother ever experienced any trauma, saying he was “spoiled.”

And yet that’s what my brother has had the gall to say about me in the past.

To cut to the chase, I grew up in a violent home. Once, mom pinned dad to the ground in the living room and held steak knife to his carotid artery. I screamed downstairs for help; my brother just laughed.

But his friend Rick Hoff (maybe it was Hoffman?) ran up the stairs and rescued my dad.

Rick didn’t think it was funny.

Rick and John didn’t stay friends long.

Were your boozer friends in high school suffering trauma, too?

They say we all deal with childhood trauma and the stress that comes with it, even into adulthood, differently. That’s true to some degree, I suppose.

But evidence increasingly shows that people who experience childhood trauma are far more likely to find themselves in the throes of addiction and alcoholism.

Read more: Who are the opioid addicts in the Quad-Cities, or where you live?

I recently ran across one of the most affirming and logical articles surrounding addiction that I have read in a few years. While I did not agree with everything in it – particularly its emphasis on predatory 12-step programs – I did like its explanation of an assessment tool called ACEs.

ACEs references the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study.

From the article that appears on the ACEsTooHigh website:

In the 1980s, PTSD was defined as a result of trauma that was outside the realm of normal experience.

“That was just wrong,” says Sumrok. “Divorce, living with depressed or addicted family members are very common events for kids. My efforts are around helping people to see the connections, and that their experiences are predictable and normal. And the longer the experiences last, the bigger the effect.”

He also says, “Drop the ‘D’, because PTSD is not a disorder.” It’s what he learned from van der Kolk, who wrote The Body Keeps the Score. “Bessel says we’ve named this thing wrong. Post-traumatic stress is a brain adaptation. It’s not an imagined fear. If one of your feet was bitten off by a lion, you’re going to be on guard for lions,” explains Sumrok. “Hypervigilance is not an imagined fear, if you’ve had one foot bitten off by a lion. It’s a real fear, and you’re going to be on the lookout for that lion. I tell my patients that they’ve had real trauma that’s not imagined. They’re not crazy.”

While it’s fair to say that what happened to me in the Rock Island County Jail probably is outside the realm of normal experience, people get assaulted and left for dead in their basements somewhere every day, no doubt. And the childhood trauma I grew up? With the beatings? The hateful words? From both my parents?

I get it.

Want to get your ACEs score? Take the survey embedded in this NPR piece (I scored a 6)

Childhood trauma = addiction = disease = early grave

What’s worse? Those with high ACEs scores and who develop addiction also are at extreme risk for other chronic health conditions: All of them actually.

More from the piece:

Whether you’re talking about obesity, addiction to cigarettes, alcohol or opioids, the cause is the same, he says: “It’s the trauma of childhood that causes neurobiological changes.” And the symptoms he saw 40 years ago in soldiers returning from Vietnam are the same in the people he sees today who are addicted to opioids or other substances or behaviors that help them cope with the anxiety, depression, hopelessness, fear, anger, and/or frustration that continues to be generated from the trauma they experienced as children.

So, what’s my dysfunctional coping tool? I remain sober, after all, despite all I have been through.

Is my dysfunction now medical cannabis, as some bastions of pomposity who strut around town would suggest?

Read more: Treating addiction with cannabis works, and Illinois lawmakers have taken notice

No, my dysfunction is extreme high alert. Trust no one. Develop defense plan at first sign of attack. Have not only a plan B, but a C, D, E, F and a G.

It’s crappy way to live. Does it go back to my childhood?

Yes, it sure does. Absolutely.

Dad was sick, mom was sick, brother was absent

I grew up with a father who was sick all the time, mentally and physically. It was exhausting.

My parents fought constantly, and then my mom became sick, too. And died.

More from the ACEsTooHigh article:

Dr. Altha Stewart, associate professor of psychiatry in the University of Tennessee College of Medicine, learned about ACEs in 2009 when a group in Shelby County began educating people about ACEs science. They brought Dr. Vincent Felitti, co-founder of the ACE Study, and Robin Karr Morse, who wrote Ghosts from the Nursery: Tracing the Roots of Violence, which was published in 2007, to give a presentation. (Karr-Morse later wrote Scared Sick: The Role of Childhood Trauma in Adult Disease with Meredith S. Wiley; it was published in 2012.)

“It’s become a core part of what I do now in my professional work,” says Stewart, who was recently named president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association. She’s working with the Shelby County community and the local criminal justice system to integrate trauma-informed and resilience-building practices to find ways to help youth who enter the justice system — all of whom have likely experienced ACEs — instead of shaming, blaming or punishing them.

The things that have happened to kids — as well as to many people who come into the health care system — are out of their control, says Stewart. “When you’re a child, you don’t control the people who abuse and assault you, who create hostile environments, who don’t provide you with clean clothes….” 

“If a child can’t control their environment, because of these things they grow up thinking they’re bad, different, horrible people. This new approach (integrating trauma-informed and resilient-building practices based on ACEs science) helps them feel like they’re not drowning anymore. When they can pop their head out of the water and get a breath, and see outstretched hands, a life preserver, a life boat, that changes their entire perspective.”

Read more: Here’s even more proof the plant is the way out of addiction

While this incredibly affirming article preaches meeting patients where they’re at, the piece does not mention medical cannabis as a viable part of an addiction treatment plan. This despite pushing addictive Pharma medications in the piece as part of “maintenance therapy.”

It also does not address that the only real treatment for chronic PTSD are benzodiazepines, which affect the brain the same way as alcohol. The piece affirms that people with PTSD are at high risk of alcoholism. The piece preaches opioid maintenance therapy for people with PTSD needing to get off heroin, but it does not address what a person with severe PTSD who is a recovering alcoholic is supposed to do, if not medical cannabis.

It’s a hypocritical disconnect. Medical cannabis is the only thing that helps people like myself. On top of it I pray, exercise, and usually eat right.

I have been gouging on sugar lately.

Until next time.

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