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Trauma & Addiction: 5 Signs of Emotional Trauma in Adults

Trauma and addiction are often diagnosed together, and understanding the connection between these two conditions can help you get the care needed to recover. Prompt treatment increases the chance of successful healing, so it’s worth knowing how to recognize the signs of emotional trauma.

Emotional trauma sometimes triggers addiction or worsens the severity of an existing substance abuse disorder. Therefore, effective trauma treatment is often an essential part of a substance abuse disorder treatment program. At Beachway, the dual diagnosis programs include effective trauma therapies to help you understand and manage the root cause of addiction. Below, explore the relationship between trauma and addiction, learn to recognize signs of emotional trauma, and take a deep dive into trauma and addiction recovery strategies.


How Are Addiction and Trauma Related?

Trauma and addiction have a complex relationship, and many people who have experienced trauma don’t develop a substance abuse disorder. However, scientific research shows that people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have a higher risk of addiction. People are less likely to develop a substance abuse disorder as the result of trauma if not showing symptoms of PTSD.

Some people develop addictions following childhood trauma, while others experience substance abuse disorders triggered by a traumatic event in adulthood. Often, addiction happens when a person self-medicates with illicit drugs to help them cope with their emotional symptoms after a distressing event. Overall, people are around two to four times more likely to develop a substance abuse disorder if they have PTSD.

Sometimes, addiction comes before trauma. Abusing alcohol or other drugs could increase the risk of developing PTSD and other mental health disorders. A 2008 study researching PTSD symptoms in Hurricane Katrina survivors found that participants with substance abuse disorders were more likely to experience PTSD in the year following the disaster. Substance abuse can also increase the risk of traumatic experiences while procuring and using drugs.

Trauma and Addiction Dual Diagnosis

Being diagnosed with a substance abuse disorder and a mental health disorder is known as dual diagnosis. Traditionally, clinics treated either addiction or mental health concerns, often because they didn’t have the knowledge or resources to treat both disorders together. However, the problem with this approach is that dual diagnosis can be a vicious circle.

Using alcohol or drugs can worsen the symptoms of trauma or PTSD, which causes people to continue abusing substances to manage their symptoms. Dual diagnosis programs treat both disorders simultaneously to help patients break the cycle and enjoy better mental and physical well being without using substances.

Often, people with trauma and addiction develop other psychological disorders or physical health issues. The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies estimates that around half of people living with PTSD and substance abuse disorders have at least one additional mental or physical health concern. For example, a dual diagnosis of trauma and addiction increases the risk of developing anxiety, major depression, or attention deficit disorder (ADD). People are also more likely to experience a chronic illness such as diabetes, liver disease, or persistent pain.

It’s relatively common for people with trauma and addiction to struggle with more than one addiction. For instance, they may abuse alcohol while using illegal drugs. Therefore, a holistic treatment program that addresses mental health, addiction issues, and physical health concerns is essential for ensuring long-term recovery.

Is Substance Abuse a Symptom of Trauma?

Substance abuse can be a symptom of emotional trauma if using alcohol or drugs to cope with distressing thoughts and feelings after a traumatic event. For example, some folks may drink alcohol excessively or use drugs to try and blot out memories of the trauma. While PTSD is associated with a range of substance abuse disorders, the drugs most commonly used as a result of trauma are:

  • Alcohol
  • Cocaine
  • Opiates
  • Heroin
  • Marijuana

Some may self-medicate with alcohol or drugs for multiple reasons. Often, people with trauma or PTSD use substances to dampen traumatic thoughts or to stop themselves from constantly feeling on edge. Others may find that substance abuse relieves sleep problems and nightmares associated with trauma. In some cases, substance abuse offers a distraction from the impact of trauma, such as loneliness or problems with important relationships.

The urge to use alcohol or drugs to self-treat the symptoms of trauma is an understandable reaction, but it’s likely to worsen your issues long-term. The relief felt from abusing substances is temporary and won’t solve the deeper problems causing mental health conditions. Furthermore, substance abuse may relieve certain symptoms, such as insomnia, while exacerbating others. It can also lead to social, physical, and emotional problems that can harm recovery efforts.

Therefore, self-medicating with substances is an unhealthy, short-term solution to managing distress. Engaging in proven therapies to treat trauma and addiction provides a lasting path to recovery and lets people avoid the harmful implications of substance abuse disorders.

5 Signs of Emotional Trauma in Adults

Emotional trauma can cause significant distress, and research shows significant benefits of early PTSD detection. A prompt diagnosis can help access effective PTSD and trauma treatment as quickly as possible, reducing the severity and duration of symptoms. It’s also thought that early detection can prevent developing chronic (long-term) PTSD following a traumatic experience.

Knowing the signs and symptoms of emotional trauma can help people spot the condition. As trauma can increase the risk of addiction (and vice versa), recognizing these symptoms early increases the chances of successful dual diagnosis treatment. Below, we’ve outlined the most common symptoms of trauma and PTSD.

Flashbacks and Intrusive Memories

After a traumatic event, it’s common to experience unwanted and uncontrollable thoughts about past experiences. These thoughts are often called intrusive thoughts or memories. Many people have nightmares that are related to the trauma. Flashbacks can also occur that can make people feel like they’re experiencing the event all over again. These flashbacks can range from brief events to longer episodes where the conscious awareness of the world around the person is lost.

Flashbacks and intrusive memories may be caused by a triggering event that reminds the person of the traumatic experiences. For example, visiting the place where the trauma happened or hearing sounds associated with the experience can trigger flashbacks. People may also experience physical symptoms, such as a rapid heart rate or raised blood pressure.

Avoidance Behaviors and Emotional Numbing

If experiencing trauma or PTSD, try to avoid thinking or talking about the events that caused the condition. It may also help to avoid people, places, or other stimuli that trigger the symptoms. Some people use alcohol or drugs to try and stop their difficult thoughts and feelings.

Some folks with PTSD also report a symptom known as emotional numbing, which means being unable to feel or express a normal range of emotions. However, studies show that people with PTSD are often hyper-sensitive to negative emotions but may not experience the same range of positive emotions as they did before becoming unwell. For example, they may regularly feel sad or angry but experience feelings like happiness and contentment less often or to a lesser degree.

Hyperarousal and Heightened Reactivity

Hyperarousal and heightened reactivity mean being overly alert or reactive after a traumatic event. For instance, people who have experienced war-related trauma may startle easily when they hear a loud noise or constantly observe their surroundings for potential threats. They may also show exaggerated reactions, such as aggression, to everyday stimuli.

Experiencing hyperarousal and heightened reactivity can make concentrating on usual activities more difficult. Being overly alert can also cause problems with falling or staying asleep through the night.

Negative Changes in Mood and Thoughts

Trauma and PTSD can cause changes to mood and thoughts. Some people may develop a pessimistic world view or feel bad about themselves. For example, they may believe the world is full of danger after a traumatic experience. They may also have inaccurate beliefs about the trauma, such as thinking they caused a situation that was actually beyond their control.

Other types of mood and thought changes experienced by people with PTSD include:

  • Forgetting parts of the traumatic event
  • Feelings of guilt, anger, and other negative emotions
  • Detachment from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Difficulty experiencing joy and other positive emotions

Changes in Arousal and Reactivity

Experiencing trauma often causes changes in arousal and reactivity, and people likely have these symptoms almost constantly if they develop PTSD. Generally, people diagnosed with PTSD have at least two symptoms related to arousal and reactivity, such as feeling on edge, sleep problems, or risky behavior.

These symptoms can significantly impact mood and the ability to participate in usual activities. For example, feeling constantly on guard can lead to significant stress. Symptoms may also make it more challenging to focus on tasks. For example, some people may struggle to concentrate at work, maintain healthy habits, or interact with loved ones.

Trauma and Addiction Recovery

There was once a concern that treating trauma and addiction together could make substance abuse disorders worse. However, it’s now known that treating trauma-related disorders and substance abuse disorders simultaneously can help achieve trauma and addiction recovery.

Dual diagnosis treatments work by treating the underlying cause of addiction in people with PTSD and trauma. Trauma-informed therapies can reduce the psychological and physical symptoms of PTSD and other mental health problems, reducing the urge to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. At the same time, treating addiction prevents substance misuse from making PTSD symptoms worse, allowing patients to break the vicious cycle.

Scientific research affirms the benefits of treating trauma and addiction concurrently. For example, a 2006 study of people with PTSD and alcohol addiction discovered that treating PTSD symptoms helped patients reduce their alcohol consumption. It also found that reducing alcohol intake improved PTSD symptoms such as hyperarousal. Another study determined that 80% of participants with PTSD and substance abuse disorders preferred programs that co-treated their conditions instead of focusing on one disorder over another.

There are various treatment options for dual trauma and substance abuse disorder recovery, and which one suits someone best depends on the symptoms and circumstances. A clinical team can lend support in finding the most appropriate treatment model for each situation. Dual diagnosis treatment can be complex, so professional help is crucial. Clinicians with extensive knowledge of how mental health problems and substance abuse disorders interact have the expertise to design and deliver an effective treatment plan.

Starting an inpatient treatment program can seem daunting, especially when experiencing distressing symptoms. However, inpatient programs like those offered at Beachway have several benefits. Specialized inpatient clinics can monitor each person’s wellbeing during recovery and help them detox safely. They can also help manage withdrawal symptoms and provide emotional and practical support while the person focuses on trauma and addiction recovery.

Trauma-informed care can help explain what caused the trauma, PTSD, or substance abuse disorder to develop. Knowing the root cause of the diagnosis puts everyone in the best possible position to engage in other therapies to resolve the symptoms and help them live a vibrant, more fulfilling life. Examples of therapies commonly used to treat trauma and dual diagnosis include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A type of psychological therapy that helps people develop more constructive thought and behavioral patterns
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): A therapeutic technique that supports folks in reprocessing traumatic events by reliving their experiences while moving their eyes rapidly from side to side
  • Medication: Healthcare teams may recommend certain medications to treat trauma and PTSD symptoms or manage addiction and withdrawal.
  • Group Therapy: Some trauma and substance abuse disorder programs include group therapy sessions, where patients receive counseling in groups to help them achieve fresh perspectives on their conditions and receive support.
  • Solution-Focused Therapy: Engaging in solution-focused therapy helps people determine their personal strengths and develop positive, healthy strategies for achieving goals.

How Beachway Can Assist in Trauma and Addiction Recovery

Trauma and addiction are often connected, and the key to long-term recovery is treating both the cause and the symptom. For many people, substance abuse is a symptom of trauma or PTSD because they use drugs to temporarily relieve their distress. Furthermore, abusing drugs can exacerbate trauma symptoms and may increase the risk of developing PTSD. Concurrent treatment addresses the complex relationship between trauma and addiction to help people achieve lasting recovery.

At Beachway, the knowledgeable team can deliver personalized inpatient and outpatient programs, enabling comprehensive recovery from addiction while treating the root cause of the current mental health problems. They provide proven trauma-informed treatments, including CBT, EMDR, and group therapy sessions, to support you in developing positive coping strategies and symptom control.

Meanwhile, its addiction recovery services can help people detox from drugs, manage withdrawal symptoms, and reduce the chance of relapse in a safe, nurturing environment. If appropriate, its medical team can prescribe medications to help people manage trauma and withdrawal symptoms and achieve better physical and mental wellbeing.

The team at Beachway understands that everyone’s recovery journey is unique and offers both inpatient and outpatient treatment pathways to suit people’s health status and personal circumstances. The team takes a holistic approach to addiction and trauma treatment, offering additional therapies to treat concurrent problems such as low self-esteem. For example, some programs may include yoga and art therapy classes alongside more traditional treatments to support healing. Following the treatment, people receive high-quality aftercare to encourage lifelong recovery.

For those who want to seek out help, Beachway’s treatment center is open 24/7. Call them at 877-959-7928 to discuss diagnosis and treatment options with a member of the team.

Get Help With Trauma and Addiction

People don’t have to struggle with trauma and addiction alone. The knowledgeable team at Beachway is ready to provide helpful treatment and support to assist those recovering from addiction and treat trauma and PTSD.