The Link Between Trauma & Addiction

Trauma & Addiction

Table of Contents

When a person fears for their safety, witnesses a violent or tragic act, or experiences some kind of intense pain, more times than not, that person can be described as having developed some form of trauma. The various levels of trauma affect each individual differently, so obviously, the reactions to these traumatic events can vary from mild to severe.

For example, going through something frightening enough to cause traumatic symptoms would be much more manageable for an adult compared to a child. Other examples of events that can cause some form of personal trauma include car accidents, bullying, street violence, sexual assault, domestic violence, growing up in an unstable home, natural disasters, verbal abuse, or battling a life-threatening condition.

Common Effects Of Trauma

  1. Alcohol & Substance Abuse

After a trauma, people can turn to alcohol or drugs to manage the distress they feel. Alcohol and drugs may help with painful emotions and memories in the short term, but they get in the way of recovery.

2. Depression

Sadness and grief are normal after a traumatic experience. Sometimes people also develop negative thoughts about themselves, other people, and the world in general. These thoughts and feelings of sadness usually lift as they start to come to terms with and recover from the traumatic event. Depression is common for those struggling with a traumatic experience.

3. Relationships

One of the most common trauma symptoms is how it can have negative effects directly on family, friends, and work colleagues. There is a vast amount of emotional distress that comes from traumatic experiences, and that can make it very difficult to relate to other people. It is always good to keep in mind that it is generally easier to prevent any issues from getting worse than trying to just manage them all on your own.

4. Anxiety

Many people experience worry, fear, and other emotions that cause levels of anxiety during and after a traumatic event that they have experienced in their life. Feeling physically sick, terrified, stressed, or just on edge about everything are also common among the majority.

Trauma & Addiction Connection

The road between substance abuse and trauma is a two-way path. Trauma increases the risk of developing substance abuse, and substance abuse increases the likelihood of being re-traumatized by engaging in high-risk behavior. It is also true that individuals who are abusing drugs or alcohol are less able to cope with traumatic events. The reasons behind this common co-occurrence of addiction and trauma are complex. For one thing, some people struggling to manage the effects of trauma in their lives may turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate.

The addiction soon becomes another problem in the trauma survivor’s life, and before long, their coping mechanism no longer works and causes far more pain to an already struggling person. With the impact stress responses and trauma have on the body, it’s not surprising that emotional and psychological pain often leads to an endless cycle of self-medicating, which leads to more pain, and inevitably more self-medicating, and so on. 

Often times, clients are not consciously aware that they are using substances to cope with the symptoms of trauma. They may have no memory of a traumatic event or experience, and yet, the trauma surfaces in their body or subconsciously in their brain without them knowing, and they escape with the use of drugs or alcohol.

Preventing Trauma Prior To Becoming PTSD

First, it is important to know that there is no single correct way to handle trauma symptoms. Each individual moves at their own speed and has their own methods to confront any pain and suffering that could arise. Unfortunately, there is no way to accelerate the healing process of trauma. The brain is geared for constantly being in survival mode and is always looking for new threats and information, which means those old experiences eventually route to the back of the line to direct your attention to what is new and possibly important.

You can allow yourself to just have pain and not suffer on top of pain by opening yourself up to the thoughts, feelings, and sensations associated with loss and trauma. When these distressing thoughts and feelings do arise, welcome them.  I know the concept of welcoming pain is a tricky one to grasp. After all, who wants to welcome pain? But pain is there for a reason. The pain we experience after living through trauma is there to guide us in the future and to see what lessons there are to learn that may protect us from future loss.

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