Is Trauma The Gateway To Addiction?

By Associate Epione Trauma Trainer: Aidan Martin 

I always say where I grew up, many lads had at least four ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) in their back pockets. They juggled another eight in front of their faces. The theory and practice of Adverse Childhood Experiences does have limitations but are a useful way of describing early traumas and putting the trauma into categories. And when I talk about these boys, I’m talking about a bunch of lads I went headfirst into a drug subculture with. We were ‘addicts’ before we ever knew what the word addiction even meant. We certainly had never heard of the word trauma. And no one was discussing theories around trauma and ACEs.

As a recovering addict I also have something else that I always say. That is, ‘I have experienced enough trauma to have lived three lifetimes.’ That’s not a melodramatic statement with the intent to conjure up drastic images to make you pity me. It is an honest retelling of my lived experience. And the reason it was so hard to understand was that it was blended in with some very happy times as well.

We grew up working class but many from my area would have been what some call an ‘underclass’ which is not exactly a friendly term but it hits the right note. I’d definitely emphasize that we suffered from class-unconsciousness. I didn’t know what ‘social mobility’ meant until I started college in my mid-20s. If you’d have coined terms like self -fulfilling prophecy to my friends and I, we’d have thought you were discussing some type of sci-fi movie.

But when you break it down into language that we understood then that picture might become clearer. In the streets we grew up in, every day was the potential for a square go, or getting jumped. At our school you were a ‘wee spoff’ if you tried to get educated and extreme bullying was minimised as being ‘slagged off.’ If you were labelled a ‘mink’ once then the rest of your school years was going to be a war.

For some lads the only love they knew were the nights they didn’t get belted round the face by their caregiver. Caregiver being a loose term here and not very accurate. Others had very loving single parents (usually mums) who were busy working three jobs to put food on the table and clothes on their backs. They bled their fingers to the bone loving them by providing. After all, where we grew up is now recognised as one of Scotland’s most socially deprived areas.

And me? Well my father was in prison mostly. He was a legend in my area for all the wrong reasons and trying to live up to the myth of the missing man was just impossible. There were other more serious incidents for some of these lads involving abuse, neglect, violence, substances and witnessing domestic violence.

So one might ask themselves, what is it that drew a crowd of thirteen-year-old boys into a world of addiction once they discovered alcohol? Young boys with no education. Some with loving families and some less fortunate but each of them suffering many traumas in one way or another.

Well, remember the good times I mentioned before? These were the good times. The bonding. The camaraderie. The sense of identity, belonging, structure, direction, and purpose, that was found when a young group of lads discovered substances together. In a time and place where this was a social norm. In streets where all young folk did the same and the older kids did it too. Your only reference point was older groups who were drinking, smoking, and experimenting with other substances. Sneaking into nightclubs underage.

We all left that horrendous high school with no qualifications. No pathway to anything positive. Barely sixteen years old.  No chance at a career. No chance at owning a house, or a car or anything else. No tools for building healthy relationships. We didn’t have any clue about why we felt like we did inside. No education about the intergenerational trauma that had preceded us in our families and our streets.

What we did have was a shared appetite for substances. That quick fix. The gunshot-fast departure from our grey reality into a more colourful world. The question should never be, ‘Why would you become an addict?’  Under those circumstances the question should be, ‘Why wouldn’t you become an addict?’

We were traumatised young boys before we had ever heard the words trauma or addict. So we certainly had no clue about the intrinsic links between addiction and trauma. If only we knew. If only we had been given half a chance. I had to go and get educated to realise I had never been educated.

So now it is my duty to let everyone know, as often as I can, that trauma plays a huge role in those who end up in a life of addiction. That isn’t to say that every traumatised person will become an addict, but I don’t think it is too bold of me to claim, that every addict, has very likely experienced trauma. This is what makes me so proud to work as a trauma trainer and develop a new trauma and addiction course with such a progressive, forward thinking organisation like Epione Trauma Training. We have a shared belief and vision that we must provide people with the right knowledge and skills that addresses the dreadful reality that so many are dying in Scotland of drugs-related-deaths. That is to say that addiction and trauma are very much urgent public health concerns impacting our communities every day. Acknowledging the role of trauma in this public health crisis, must be at the core of our work to break the cycle and create a trauma informed and responsive Scotland.

Associate Epione Trauma Trainer: Aidan Martin 

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