Can Addiction Start in Childhood?

We often think of addiction as something we face as adults, but when we look back at the development of our addictions over the course of our lives, many of us find that we were beginning our addictive behaviors early on, as children. We can see evidence of our addictions tracing back to when we were very young. For many of us, our addictions began after traumatic experiences that occurred in childhood, and the patterns we develop over the years that ultimately form the basis of our addictions were patterns we started very early on.

The addictive patterns we develop as children are both emotional and behavioral. We might start learning ways of dealing with our emotions early on that are self-destructive and that contribute to our addictions over time. These can include learning to suppress our emotions rather than facing them, learning to choose silence when dealing with our emotions rather than expressing them, and developing toxic thought patterns that distract us from our feelings rather than coping with them in healthy ways. We might develop limiting beliefs of self-hatred and fears of unworthiness rather than learning self-love and self-empowerment.

Many of us start to experiment with substances when we are very young, starting the habit of finding toxic outlets for our pain rather than healthy coping mechanisms. As our sexuality is developing, we might start engaging in self-destructive sexual behaviors that become compulsive and that show early signs of sex addiction. We might get a high from risky behaviors, and the normal rebelliousness of childhood might be amplified by our penchant for self-destruction.

We can pick up these thought and behavioral patterns from anywhere. Our households aren’t necessarily to blame, although many of us learn these things from our families and inherit the issues and addictions of our family members. We might learn them from peers our own age, or from the cultural media inundating us with messages to drink, party and have sex. Popular messages like “YOLO – you only live once” have been known to influence young people towards recklessness and away from making healthy, responsible choices for themselves. More and more we hear stories of young people experimenting with new and very dangerous drugs, and engaging in dangerous violent and sexual behaviors.

Addictions are our way of trying to escape the pain and angst we all feel as human beings. These feelings are not reserved for adults. Children experience them as well, and as they absorb the addictive tendencies they learn from the world around them, they often aren’t developing healthy coping mechanisms to deal with their pain, setting themselves up to develop addictions.

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