Adverse Childhood Experiences Will Create Adversarial Children.

BOOK REVIEW NUMBER TWO: In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, Close Encounters with Addiction, by Gabor Mate, M.D.  Adverse Childhood Experiences greatly increase the risk of the early initiation into drinking beer and smoking marijuana.

Our caretakers create our adult stress regulation apparatus

“A child’s capacity to handle psychological and physiological stress as an adult, is dependent on the relationship with his parents. Infants have no ability to regulate their own stress apparatus, and that’s why they will stress themselves to death if they are never picked up. We acquire that capacity gradually as we mature–or we don’t, depending on our childhood relationships with our caregivers. A responsive, predictable nurturing adult plays a key role in the development of our healthy stress-response neurobiology.

Maternal contact alters the neurobiology of the infant. Children who suffer disruptions in their attachment relationships will not have the same biochemical milieu in their brains as will their well-attached and well-nurtured peers.

Extreme circumstances breed extremist brains

One characteristic of personality disorder, a condition with which substance abusers are very commonly diagnosed, is a kind of flip-flopping between idealization of another person and intense dislike, even hatred. There is no middle ground, where both the positive and the negative qualities of the other are acknowledged and accepted. The afflicted individual fluctuates between idealized and degraded perceptions of himself, other people and the world. The faulty brain dynamics are the result of a miserable childhood. Extreme circumstances breed extremist brains.

At a conference in 1992 at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, researchers defined stress “as a state of disharmony or threatened homeostasis.” According to such a definition, a stressor “is a threat, real or perceived, that tends to disturb homeostasis.” What do all stressors have in common? Ultimately they represent the absence of something that the organism perceives as necessary for survival–or its threatened loss. The threat can be real or perceived. The threatened loss of a food supply is a major stressor. So is the threatened loss of love–for human beings. “It may be said without hesitation that for man the most important stressors are emotional.

in the realm of the hungry ghosts why the pain
Why alcoholics drink the way they do

Early stress establishes a lower set point for a child’s internal stress system: such a person becomes stressed more easily than normal throughout her life. A child who is stressed early in life will be more overactive and reactive. He is triggered more easily, is more anxious and distressed. Now, compare a person–child, adolescent, or adult–whose baseline arousal is normal with another whose baseline state of arousal is at a higher level. Give them both alcohol: both may experience the same intoxicating effect, but the one who has this higher physiological arousal will have the added effect of feeling pleasure from the relief of stress. It’s similar to when with a parched throat you drink some cool water: the pleasure effect is much heightened by the relief of thirst.

A brain preset to be easily triggered into a stress response is likely to assign a high value to substances, activities, and situations that provide short-term relief. Situations or activities that for the average person are likely to bring satisfaction are undervalued because, in the addict’s life they have not been rewarding–for example, intimate connections with family. Addicts find external means of stimulating reward pathways in the brain.

Maladaptive in the long term, highly effective in the short term

Hard-core drug addicts, whose lives invariably began under conditions of severe stress, are all too readily triggered into a stress reaction. The more adverse childhood experiences encountered, the more likely a low tolerance to stress will develop in adulthood. Not only does the stress response easily overwhelm the addict’s already challenged capacity for rational thought when emotionally aroused, but the hormones of stress also “cross-sensitize” with addictive substances. The more one is present, the more the other is craved. Addiction is a deeply ingrained response to stress, an attempt to cope with it through self-soothing. Maladaptive in the long term, it is highly effective in the short term.”

adverse childhood experiences