Last week, I discussed the effects fear and trauma have on children’s brains.Specifically, exposure to trauma creates an imbalance in three neurotransmitters that are involved with mood, reward response, addiction and behavioral regulation. These brain chemicals are dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin.
Furthermore, prenatal and childhood stress sets up a child’s nervous system to a heightened arousal state, even at rest. All these shifts in brain biochemistry negatively impact appropriate response patterns.
Gate’ reports the connection of trauma on the brain to addiction behavior:
Rather than choice, chance or genetic predetermination, it is childhood adversity that creates the susceptibility for addiction (emphasis mine).
Humans and animals require nurturing from a caregiver in order to survive, when a child does not receive consistent, secure interactions, or experiences painfully stressing ones, maldevelopment results. In vivo studies have shown that marked alterations in neurotransmitter systems occur within one week of separation from the mother, whereas animals receiving various kinds of nurturing contact during their infancy have shown more efficient brain circuitry for reducing anxiety as adults. Moreover, in vivo studies have demonstrated that animals exposed to prenatal stress exhibit characteristics of drug addiction, alcoholism and increased risk of self-administration of drugs.
According to Gate’, the brain’s biochemistry is not the only thing affected. It experiences structural changes with trauma. Specifically, brain growth is stunted by adversity. This may in part explain why a child with a nervous disposition has a harder time being soothed and regulated (emphasis mine):
Maternal deprivation and other types of adversity during infancy and childhood result in chronically high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In addition to damaging the midbrain dopamine system, excess cortisol shrinks important brain centres such as the hippocampus–a structure important for memory and for the processing of emotions–and disturbs normal brain development in many other ways, with lifelong repercussions.20,21 Another major stress chemical that is permanently overproduced after insufficient early maternal contact is vasopressin, which is implicated in hypertension.1
Dr. Amen has done substantial amounts of research on trauma and brain effects. His research in traumatic brain injuries, violence, and psychological disorders has led him to recognize specific patterns in how the brain functions with these exposures.
For example, he reports that those with impulse control issues usually have a combination of a genetic predisposition, prenatal stress exposure, and/or environmental triggers that contributes to this problem. All these factors combine creating an inability to modulate neurotransmitters or nutrients to specific regions of brain regulation.
On his webpage, Amen Clinic’s, Dr. Amen has a wide variety of studies summarizing the research on violence effects on children’s cognition.
It’s important to note that temperament may also be the factor that predicate how your child responds to trauma through addiction or behavioral problems vs. resilient responses, but it is not the final say is a child is more sensitive.
Temperament interacts with all the environmental factors discussed to modify behavior.
On the Amen Clinic’s website, Dr. Amen lists a 2005 study (Mathews, et al.) that linked environmental exposure to violence to brain changes. Specifically, 71 children who viewed violent programming had imaging of brain patterns that suggested this exposure may be associated with alterations in mental functioning related to violence, whether or not trait aggression is present.
It is with this interaction of environment that caring parents who are becoming more aware can intervene on their children’s behavioral responses.
How Caring Parents Can Help Their Children
The purpose of health information should be empowerment of understanding so we can make better decisions on what to do to help ourselves and our children.
So, with this information about trauma and our children, what do we do next?
First off, we may want to consider more closely what our children are exposed to, especially those with sensitive temperaments.
Second, I’ve written a lot on this blog about how diet and lifestyle choices can affect brain function and mitigate stress on their bodies. I encourage you to visit these blogs here and on my home page website for more empowering information on this subject (dr-lobisco.com). (Please consider subscribing for updates and sharing the information with your loved ones to spread the healing! 🙂
It’s time to spread hope, healing, and shed light on health information to empower us vs. paralyze our actions! Let’s let empowerment and breaking free from free be the new norm!
Robin S. Rosenberg. Abnormal Is the New Normal: Why will half of the U.S. population have a diagnosable mental disorder? Slate: Medical Examiner. April 12, 2013.
Dr. Northrup. Yikes! I’m Becoming My Mother. Flourish. hayhouseradio.com. (Streaming Radio) May 1, 2013.
Mate’, Gabor. Addiction: Childhood Trauma, Stress and the Biology of Addiction. Apr 29, 2013. Journal of Restorative Medicine.
Amen, D. Amen Clinic’s. The Science: Violence Research. Amen Clinics. 2013 copyrighted. http://www.amenclinics.com/amen-home/25-the-science/research-tables/57-violence-research
Hyman, M. Why Friendship Can Save Your Life. Drhyman.com. May 2, 2013. http://drhyman.com/blog/2013 /05/03/why-friendship-can-save-your-life/#close
Mercola, J. Top Three Sources of Toxic Exposures: Traffic, Personal Care and Plastic Products. Mercola.com. May 15, 2013.