Dissociation, childhood trauma and early substance use
In his master thesis research Sascha Thal investigates the link between trauma and experience of dissociation in their connection to substance use. We created a questionnaire assessing substance use patterns, dissociative phenomena, and potential traumatic experience during childhood because we are interested in understanding the link between early substance use, dissociation, and childhood trauma. Thereby, we hope to better understand the reasons for and consequences of substance use in those with challenging developmental conditions. Data was collected online between December 2017 and February 2018. The results are in the publication process.
What is it about?
It is well established that severe dissociation is associated with a history of trauma, particularly in children and adolescents. Dissociation is any of a wide array of experiences from mild detachment from immediate surroundings to more severe detachment from physical and emotional experience. The major characteristic of all dissociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality, rather than a loss of reality as in psychosis. It is further well known that substance use disorders can also be a consequence of childhood trauma. What is less well researched is the link between dissociation and substance use. Only short-term consequences of substance use on dissociation have been established, but little is known regarding the long-term consequences of substance use. Dissociative substances (Ketamine, PCP,…) resemble clinical effects of dissociation. Thereby, cannabis and hallucinogens are known to be the two most common precipitating substances for drug-initiated chronic depersonalization. Convergently, comorbidity of dissociative disorders among patients with substance use disorders is well established, but it is currently unclear whether both, dissociation and substance use are independent consequences of childhood trauma or whether there is a causal link between these two variables in users of psychoactive drugs.
Two pathways linking dissociation and drug use are possible:
(1) that people with severe dissociation use drugs as a form of coping and
(2) that severe dissociation might be a direct result of drug use
Which variable preceded the other will provide information regarding these tentative pathways.
In order to gain more information about the role of different substances in the development and severity of dissociation, we want to use well-established questionnaires, namely the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ), the Cambridge Depersonalisation Scale (CDS), a slightly adapted version of a questionnaire previously constructed and utilized by the European School Survey Project (ESPAD) and additional questions regarding age of onset of dissociative symptoms and the relation to for substance use (substance use as coping strategy; feelings of dissociation related to substance use). A self-report online questionnaire will be created using QUALTRICS and distributed via links to users of online drug communities and social networks.
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