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How Are Trauma and Addiction Related

Experiencing trauma as a child or even as an adult is closely tied to drug and alcohol addiction. Many people become dependent on drugs as a way of self-medicating to help them cope with the traumatic event. It’s also common for individuals to not even realize their behaviors and addictions are a result of not processing or healing from the trauma. 

In this article, you’ll learn what defines trauma, examples of traumatic events, signs and symptoms, specifically how trauma is linked with addiction, and treatment that can help substance use disorder.

What is Trauma?

Trauma is defined as an event or circumstance that results in physical harm, emotional harm, and/or life-threatening harm. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), trauma can have lasting effects on an individual’s mental health, physical health, emotional health, social well-being, and spiritual well-being. 

Trauma can happen to anyone, at any age.

What are Traumatic Events?

There is a wide range of events that can be considered traumatic, and whether or not an event is considered traumatic is based on each individual’s personal experience. For example, what is traumatic to one person might not be traumatic to another. 

Examples of traumatic events include (but are not limited to):

How Trauma and Substance Abuse are Connected

When a person experiences trauma there is a healing that needs to take place. The issue is that many people don’t realize they need help to recover from a traumatic event, and they continue to try and move forward with their lives without dealing with the trauma that has occurred. However, the effects of trauma don’t just go away, and it can be extremely stressful and overwhelming without treatment. 

This is when many people turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to help them cope with the physical and emotional impact the traumatic event has had on their lives. Using drugs and alcohol is a way of self-medicating, and people find when they drink or take drugs, they think about the event less, or they are able to more easily function on a day-to-day basis. But drugs and alcohol do not actually help people heal – they only contribute to the trauma and make things much worse. 

Signs of Trauma

The signs of trauma can include (but are not limited to):

The symptoms and behavioral changes associated with trauma can change over time and it’s unlikely the person will improve without professional help. In many cases, individuals do not even realize their behavior is a direct result of the trauma they have experienced. 

How Does Childhood Trauma Affect Adulthood?

Childhood trauma and addiction in adulthood are closely linked. While not all people who have drug and alcohol addiction as adults have experienced trauma as children, it’s very common for this to be the case. One reason for this is that our brains have the ability to adapt to all types of environmental situations and experiences, which is known as plasticity. This means if someone experiences a traumatic event as a child, the high levels of stress could actually negatively impact how their brain develops, leading to addiction later in life. 

Another reason why experiencing trauma as a child makes someone more susceptible to drug and alcohol addiction later in life is that children have a more difficult time understanding traumatic events. For example, an event that a child perceives as very traumatic might have been considered far less traumatic if it had been experienced as an adult. But if processing from that event does not take place as a child (when it occurred), it’s easy to carry the shame, hurt, or sense of low-self worth as an adult (leading to addiction as a way to cope). 

Children also tend to have a parent or caregiver who they rely on for love, comfort, and support as a way of physical and emotional survival. But if that caregiver is the source of the trauma, that child might grow up with a drug or alcohol addiction as a way of coping with the trauma experienced by their caregiver.

Dual Diagnosis: PTSD and Substance Abuse Treatment

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, also known as PTSD, is a common mental health condition that is the result of continuing to experience the ongoing effects of trauma. Many people who experience trauma also develop PTSD and use drugs or alcohol as a way of “dealing” with their feelings from the event. 

The solution for those suffering from PTSD and addiction, as well as another type of mental illness, is dual diagnosis treatment. This type of trauma therapy can help you understand your trauma, develop healthy coping skills that put you in control of your own life, and replace self-defeating survival strategies with positive ones that actually help. 

When combined with detox and inpatient rehab for drug abuse and/or alcohol abuse, you’ll get the tools and support you need to live a happy, healthy life and develop a sense of self-worth.

Trauma Therapy and Substance Abuse Treatment

Ready to start the path to healing and recovering from trauma? Our team at Gloria Rehab is here to help you live a happy, healthy life. Each of our evidence-based therapies and programs provides patients with a unique and individualized approach to care in a supportive, compassionate environment. We’re also available to answer any questions you might have related to our treatment programs, treatment for mental disorders, and health insurance coverage.

Contact us today to begin the treatment process. 

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Review by: Hasmik Karapetyan, PMHNP, MSN, RN​

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