David Liddell: Trauma leading factor in drug use

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Today we’ve published important research on some of the underlying issues which can lead people to develop drug problems.

It has long been understood that trauma was a factor behind the scale of Scotland’s drug problem. This research brings that home in stark detail.

The research has highlighted significant childhood trauma, and in particular sexual abuse, amongst the majority of those interviewed. Many also suffered additional traumas after they developed drug problems – for example, being present when someone died of a drug overdose or experiencing extreme violence.

Sadly, the coping mechanism for many people experiencing extreme trauma has been to resort to heavy drug use as a way of blotting out unpleasant memories.

Anyone without the label “problem drug user or addict” who experienced such trauma would nowadays expect to receive intensive help including psychological support.

So why is it that for people with drug problems issues of trauma are often missed, not addressed and are therefore left untreated? Sadly, this relates to the huge stigma attached to people with a drug problem and a prevailing view among a significant proportion of the wider public, which can also seep into the views of professionals, that drug use is a “lifestyle choice” – something people did for fun that got out of control – and is therefore self-inflicted and less deserving of help.

In addition, the research also provides important pointers regarding the prevention of future drug problems. If childhood traumas are more effectively dealt with people will be less likely to turn to drug use as a way of coping.

It’s crucial that services for people with drug problems become skilled in dealing with underlying traumas and work together with specialist services to ensure these issues are appropriately addressed.

The research is published on our website, www.sdf.org.uk

David Liddell is director of the Scottish Drugs Forum.