The Trauma of Marital Conflicts and Teen Addiction

Marital conflicts and divorce can cause emotional turmoil in the home and thus affect young people negatively regarding their emotional and mental health. Researchers have found the two as co-occurring problems. For example, marital conflict or divorce may lead to teens’ self-blame, which in turn jeopardizes a young person’s self-esteem and self-worth. The disillusion about parental authority can also be traumatizing to young people who find it hard to trust their parents. Understanding this dynamic from a trauma-informed perspective can help us support teens and adolescents who are at high risk of substance addiction.

Midlife Marital Strain and Adolescent Sensitivities 

The crisis plays out in the home when both the parents and the child have reached their respective critical periods in life. Midlife marriage strain has to do with adults going through a time in life when youthful enthusiasm has been exhausted and there is a longing for new adventures and even new identities. People who go through a midlife crisis can also experience depression, anxiety, pessimism, anger, insomnia, and lack of energy. Many adult parents barely have the energy and coping strategies to handle their own emotional pains, not to mention their children’s emotional needs.

Around this time, children in the home have grown to become teens and adolescents who are also at a critical period of dramatic change in the body and brain systems because of puberty. The brain’s remodeling causes a period of heightened biological sensitivity to environmental influences. If there are negative patterns of hostility and conflicts between parents in the home, they can be extremely stressful and depressing for teens and adolescents.

Researchers have found a close association between parental marital conflict and adolescent maladjustment. In the extreme cases of parental divorce, stress and pain make up the trauma in severing such close relationships, which were the foundation of a child’s self-identity. With few exceptions that involve domestic violence and abuse, parental divorce almost always brings disorientation and disillusion to a sensitive teenager. Although their minds are actively making sense of this, their emotions are overstimulated to bear the pain. Sometimes, parents take a denialist approach to the ending of their relationship, which is not helpful either.

Adolescents Need Trauma-Informed Care and Treatment

The medical community defines trauma as resulting from “an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.” To teens and adolescents, parental conflict and divorce can be a form of trauma that overwhelms them in coping and functioning.

A trauma-informed approach supports adolescents’ recovery from mental health issues or substance addiction by fully considering and assessing their personal history and family history. It stresses the importance of the individual rather than applying general treatment and reflects a holistic and compassionate approach to complex, real-life issues.

Implementing trauma-informed prevention and intervention can improve many steps of treatment, such as screening, assessment, and therapies. A family can also benefit from knowing more about trauma and its impact on young people. Trauma-informed intervention coaches them to invest more in the emotional needs of teen and adolescent children.

Trauma-Informed Intervention Principles

Because a trauma-informed intervention focuses on how trauma may have affected an individual’s life and choices, it incorporates a few key elements, including:

  • Assessing the prevalence of trauma
  • Recognizing how trauma affects all members of the family
  • Responding by putting this knowledge into practical care

The trauma-informed intervention begins with the first contact with an interventionist who recognizes that an individual’s past traumatic experiences can influence his or her receptivity to and engagement with this intervention. The interventionist needs to be sensitive and protective of the vulnerability of this young person while wisely providing support and coaching advice. The interventionist can read the signs and symptoms of trauma through conversations and integrate that knowledge into the intervention approach.

A trauma-informed interventionist has competence in supporting a person by researching and connecting the family to age-specific and appropriate treatment resources. The interventionist also needs to avoid retraumatizing an individual through this whole process. This trauma awareness encompasses the knowledge that trauma can extend to significant others in the home and community. Thus, there is the need to coach and walk alongside parents, close friends, and other concerned family members by encouraging the processing of trauma-related content. They can be encouraged to build more coping skills in supporting each other through a difficult time.

Do you know that marital conflicts and divorce may increase the risk of children developing mental health issues and substance addiction? Have you thought about parental divorce as a form of trauma that may affect a child's emotional and mental well-being? It is important to adopt a trauma-informed understanding of marital conflicts and youth health. Doing so may help many understand the importance of healthy family dynamics to the well-being of a younger generation. You can also talk with a professional interventionist about the topic. At South Florida Intervention, our professionally trained interventionists have helped many teens and young adults recover from mental health issues and substance addiction. Aligning with a trauma-informed approach, we know how to work with young people and their families. We can also connect you with trusted health professionals who have plenty of experience. Apart from recovery coaching and parent coaching, we also offer detailed case management. Call us at (202) 390-2273.