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Problem drug use could be down to childhood adversity, MPs told

Dr John Budd told Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee that health is ‘socially determined’.

A man using the Class A drug cocaine (Chris Young/PA)
A man using the Class A drug cocaine (Chris Young/PA)

Childhood adversity can have a major impact on a person’s ability to make healthy life choices as they grow older, MPs have been told.

Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee heard evidence on Tuesday as part of an inquiry into problem drug use in Scotland.

Dr John Budd, from Edinburgh Access Practice, told MPs research indicates young people who grew up in poorer backgrounds and who faced significant levels of adversity have been found to have neurological differences in their development.

Mr Budd said this could impact on their ability to make healthy choices and potentially lead to them developing problems with drug and alcohol abuse.

He added poverty is a key factor in determining a person’s long-term health.

“Health is socially determined,” Mr Budd said.

“If you look at the number one risk factor for people becoming homeless, it is that they were poor as children, that they were impoverished as children.

“So childhood poverty is a major driver in terms of long-term health outcomes.

“None of us choose our parents, none of us choose what area we were born into, our country, anything like this.

“And in terms of choice, the patients I see, personal choice has – I would say – no place in terms of the fact that they end up sitting in my consulting room telling me about their lives, whether it’s substance use, rough sleeping for 10 years, whatever it may be, very few people choose those life choices if there are alternatives.”

Those children who are exposed to early adversity, you can actually physically see the difference in the neurodevelopment, which actually limits their ability to choose and pursue things that we would actually see as healthy choices Dr John Budd

He added “Many of these, generally what we know is poverty drives people and childhood adversity is very much concentrated in poorer communities and in poor social circumstances.

“We know that from a biological point of view we can now do clever PET scans for looking at children’s brains and those children who are exposed to early adversity, you can actually physically see the difference in the neurodevelopment, which actually limits their ability to choose and pursue things that we would actually see as healthy choices.

“So choice plays very little role in that sense.”

Mr Budd said work is being carried out to help enable people to make healthy life choices but it is a slow and developmental process.

Iain Clunie, from SMART Recovery, said addiction could impact on any type of person at any time.

He said: “There is no rhyme nor reason. It could affect anybody at any time and it’s just that relationship change from being something you take to enjoy, to become something that you need and when that switch goes over, that’s the start of your addiction.”

Patricia Tracey, from Turning Point Scotland, told MPs that as part of efforts to encourage more people to seek help for substance abuse, destigmatising the language around substance use is important.

“I think if we work to reduce stigma across the UK people would be more open about asking for help,” said Ms Tracey.

“Services are available but often people find it difficult to come forward, or even services are on the periphery rather than the mainstream.”

She added: “There’s a real stigma and shame about the way that we look at substances.

“We’ve not got a consistent language and that’s something we should work towards.”

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