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What Is The Link Between Trauma and Addiction?

Trauma often leads to substance abuse and increases the likelihood of individuals using addictive substances. This is because trauma can often lead individuals to develop mental illnesses and disorders and then use substances to alleviate their symptoms.

In fact, 75% of people undergoing substance abuse treatment report experiences of trauma and abuse in their past. This is why it’s so important to understand the links between trauma and addiction and how they can help inform effective treatment.


Understanding Trauma

Trauma can have a number of causes. A person might have trauma after a one-time experience, especially if it occurs in childhood, while extended experiences can also cause trauma — for instance, an abusive relationship that occurs over time or other chronic experiences, such as a long illness. Common causes of trauma include:

    • Instances of violence.
    • Parental neglect or unstable home life.
    • Sexual assault or abuse.
    • Verbal and emotional abuse.
    • Bullying and harassment.
    • Accidents and natural disasters.
    • Chronic disease or pain.

Trauma can have a number of effects on a person’s mental and physical health. Mental health issues — including anxiety, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and drug abuse disorders — are high risk for individuals who experience trauma. Physical health problems, such as chronic pain and fatigue, IBS, chronic illness, and fibromyalgia, are also associated with trauma.

Symptoms of trauma are broken into two categories associated with hyperarousal, an increased state of alertness in the nervous system, and hypo-arousal, a decreased state of alertness in the nervous system:

    • Symptoms include jitteriness, irritability, aggressiveness, and impulsivity. Physical symptoms can include tension, increased heart rate, and sweating. Long-term symptoms may include increased risk-taking and other self-destructive behaviors, and heightened anxiety and stress levels.
    • Symptoms include a feeling of emotional numbness or detachment and an increased willingness to self-isolate. Physical symptoms can include fatigue and low energy levels. Long-term symptoms may include forgetfulness, avoidance of stressful situations, and increased risk-taking.

The Influence Trauma Often Has on Addiction

A large amount of research has shown that there is a strong link between trauma and substance use disorders such as addiction. People who’ve experienced trauma often turn to drugs, alcohol, and other substances to help them deal with the psychological effects of their trauma. They might do this to get rid of negative feelings caused by their trauma, such as anxiety, or to produce positive feelings, which trauma has made it difficult for them to experience.

Because trauma symptoms can present in states of both hyperarousal and hypo-arousal, trauma sufferers may choose particular types of substances that “solve” their problems. A person with hyperarousal may use depressants such as alcohol, while a person with hypo-arousal may use cocaine or other stimulants to treat depression or other mental health conditions. Here are some common reasons trauma sufferers might turn to alcohol or drug use:

    • Creating feelings of pleasure.
    • Reducing anxiety.
    • Quieting intrusive or suicidal thoughts
    • Regulating their mood
    • Suppressing stress
    • Inducing a state of numbness.

Getting Treatment for Trauma and Addiction

Addiction and trauma often go together and can quickly have a negative impact on an individual’s life, leading to mental and physical health issues such as depression and anxiety. With time, these issues can present difficulties in keeping employment and forming and maintaining healthy personal relationships.

When an individual is dealing with co-occurring diagnoses such as a mental health disorder and addiction, a treatment plan designed specifically with dual diagnosis in mind can be a powerful tool in setting them on their way to recovery. At Beachway Therapy Center, we provide outstanding personalized care to patients suffering from co-occurring mental health disorders, including substance use disorders and trauma. If you or a loved one are interested in learning more about treatment, contact us today.