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The Relationship Between Trauma and Addiction

Addiction is often connected to past trauma. Understanding the link between the two is a foundational aspect of long-term substance abuse treatment in trauma survivors.

What is Trauma?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines trauma as: “An event or series of circumstances that have lasting effects on your mental, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual well-being.” These events can happen in childhood or adulthood and can be extremely varied.

Some of the most common types of trauma are:

  • Domestic violence
  • Parental neglect
  • Physical assault
  • Verbal or emotional abuse
  • Sexual assault and rape
  • Bullying or persistent harassment
  • Natural disasters
  • Life-threatening accidents
  • Terminal or chronic illness

This is not a comprehensive list, and there are no rules about what makes a traumatic experience. However, all forms of trauma can create long-term effects that may push a person towards substance misuse. Long-term reactions to trauma include:

  • Flashbacks
  • Strained relationships
  • Erratic emotions
  • Headaches
  • Waves of nausea
  • Challenges coping with stress

People who experience profound psychological or physical effects of trauma will often seek ways to manage their symptoms.

Connecting Trauma to Addiction

The most identifiable link between trauma and addiction is the use of substances as a coping mechanism. Men and women suffering from trauma or the effects of PTSD often turn to drugs and alcohol initially as a method of self-medication.

This form of substance abuse numbs or distracts from the anguish that trauma and PTSD can cause. These behaviors build up a specific psychological dependence that can make addiction even harder to quit without help.

Childhood Trauma and Addiction

Another well-studied connection between trauma and addiction relates to when the experience happened. Specifically, we know that childhood trauma can significantly increase the chance of developing an early addiction. Multiple surveys have discovered a strong link between the two, discovering that:

  • Around 70% of adolescents seeking addiction treatment are found to have a history of trauma exposure.
  • As many as 59% of young people with PTSD later develop problems with substance abuse and addiction.

In the case of specific addictions, these numbers can be even more extreme. One comprehensive study put these numbers into even greater perspective, finding that a child who has experienced four traumatic events is later:

  • Five times more likely to develop alcoholism
  • Forty-six times more likely to abuse intravenous drugs

A Vicious Cycle

As addiction feeds into trauma, and trauma feeds back into addiction, a vicious cycle is formed.

Some studies have found that addiction affects people’s ability to handle trauma healthily, as it impairs the brain’s ability to handle stress. At the same time, long-term substance abuse can expose people to violent situations, promote risky behaviors, and lead to chronic illness – all traumatic events in their own right.

Treating Trauma-based Addiction

Understanding the underlying reasons for addiction is necessary for a healthy, sustainable recovery. When someone has self-medicated for years to suppress trauma, it will pose unique obstacles during their journey to sobriety. These obstacles need to be understood and included as part of the treatment plan.

The first step is to seek out a treatment center that offers dual diagnosis. This service includes the diagnosis of other co-occurring psychiatric disorders as well as substance abuse disorder. Mental health challenges of any kind need to be addressed as part of holistic recovery. PTSD and other trauma-related conditions are treated alongside addiction, with an understanding of how the two relate.

Taking a route dedicated to trauma within a wider addiction treatment program is invaluable to people suffering from co-occuring disorders. At Enlightened Solutions, we offer a dedicated trauma track that incorporates what is known as “Phase One” trauma work. This kind of addiction treatment dually focuses on the full scope of an individual’s trauma and addiction-related symptoms. This means spending dedicated time with a dually-licensed therapist certified in treating trauma and designing therapies specifically designed to help clients cope with and stabilize symptoms.

Contact Enlightened Solutions

There is no addiction that cannot be overcome. If trauma is feeding into your drug use and you’re struggling to quit, Enlightened Solutions Detox can help providing dual diagnosis. We’re a drug and alcohol detox facility that will help you to start your recovery in a safe and trigger-free environment. Once you transition into our substance treatment program, we staff a clinical team that can provide you with the therapy required to manage both sobriety and trauma. To learn more about our detox and treatment programs, give us a call at 833-233-7336.

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