The Connection Between Trauma and Addiction
Addiction and trauma are two huge problems that are often intertwined. Sometimes, individuals struggle with both at the same time. There is a strong connection between trauma and addiction and they can make each other worse. Fortunately, both are treatable. Read further to learn more.
It is typical to experience some challenges in life. Challenges include flunking a class, breaking up with someone, or experiencing financial difficulties. Some experiences prove to be so deeply painful that they cause more severe, more long-lasting impact. This pain can be trauma.
What is trauma?
Troublesome experiences create trauma, a mental health condition that creates distress, depression, or personality changes. This trauma may deprive people of the ability to function normally because they are battling past or ongoing experiences.
There are different forms of trauma, including psychological trauma, physical trauma, and a clinical diagnosis known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Trauma is a widespread mental condition that affects many people:
- 61 percent of men and 51 percent of women face at least one potentially traumatic event in their lifetimes.
- 90 percent of people in behavioral healthcare settings have experienced trauma in their lives.
- When trauma is not addressed properly, it can lead to addictions or other mental conditions.
- Self-medication, such as using drugs or alcohol or participating in compulsive sex or gambling, are common methods to cope with trauma.
What are examples of traumatic events?
People have different perceptions of traumatic events, and they also have varying backgrounds and experiences. In people who have been diagnosed with trauma, common triggers for such trauma may include:
Physical and sexual abuse
Physical and sexual abuse is inflicting or attempting to inflict unwanted physical or sexual violence. Incidents of physical and sexual abuse may happen once or multiple times. Perpetrators may be familiar to the victims or may be strangers.
Psychological abuse may involve verbal assaults, emotional neglect, and other tactics that can harm people apart from physical and sexual attacks. Psychological abuse often occurs repeatedly on a long-term basis and among people who know each other well, such as family members.
Accidents and natural disasters
Accidents involving vehicles, medical malpractice, or random occurrences, or natural disasters may also be sources of trauma. Some patients relieve these memories repeatedly, impairing them of the ability to progress in their lives.
Witnessing acts of violence can negatively impact the brain. Such violence may include witnessing combat experience in the armed forces, other acts of war, school shootings, gang-related violence, or other kinds of attacks.
Experiencing grief can also be a source of trauma for some people. The grief may result from the death of a loved one, a separation, or a sudden change in life circumstances.
Developing addictions as a result of trauma and vice versa
Self-medication is a common phenomenon among adults who have experienced some form of trauma in their lives. People may use substances to deal with the painful symptoms of traumatic episodes, symptoms that may include
- Intrusive thoughts
- Unwanted flashbacks
- Hallucinations and flashbacks related to the traumatic experience
These symptoms could interfere in individuals’ daily lives. They may be impaired if they encounter things that remind them of their traumatic experiences. These reminders may trigger flashbacks or other symptoms.
As a result, sometimes people use drugs, alcohol, self-mutilation, gambling, food, sex, and other addictive substances and behaviors to try to block intrusive thoughts related to traumatic events. These forms of self-medication may prove to be ineffective and counterproductive as they may negatively impact a person’s well-being.
If you or a loved one has experienced trauma and the symptoms related to it, understand that there are healthier ways to cope.
Healthier ways to cope with trauma and addiction
There is no single cure-all solution to help people dealing with trauma and addiction, a condition sometimes known as a dual diagnosis, co-occurring disorder, or comorbidity. People may have trouble addressing their traumatic experiences if they do not deal with their addictions as well.
An early step in trauma and addiction recovery is dealing with the addiction through medical or psychological ways (or both). Seeking help from a doctor or a dual diagnosis rehab center is a great place to start. This will help you see the connection between your trauma and how it leads to substance abuse. They will help you in the beginning steps of realizing your trauma and how it impacts you and refer you to a therapist in your community.
Treating trauma is another component of recovering from trauma and addiction. Such treatment may include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), participating in support groups, and attending counseling sessions to break unwanted thought patterns and emotional reactions to traumatic experiences. Medical professionals also assess people as they undergo addiction treatment to treat these conditions.