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Addiction

The Connection Between Addiction And Trauma

Trauma has the potential to change who you are. Whether it involves events that occurred during your adult life or your childhood years, trauma can change how you view the world. This is also the reason why it’s quite common for many people to develop either an alcohol or drug addiction after going through traumatic experiences. This is caused by various factors, mainly because alcohol and drugs can be used to block out or numb feelings or effects caused by the traumatic event.

Understanding the connection between addiction and trauma can help educate a person currently dealing with these issues. This understanding also assists mental health practitioners when it comes to treating their clients and developing a new way of thinking when it comes to trauma and addiction.

Defining Addiction And Trauma

Addiction

Defined as a chronic disease, addiction is something that develops gradually, causing the individual to become extremely dependent on substances or specific behaviors. It is usually easy to tell when a person has transitioned from abusing something to addiction when they start choosing the behavior or substance over important responsibilities and priorities.

 

It is often common for an addiction to lead to dire consequences such as homelessness, job loss, severing ties with friends and family, health problems, financial issues, and more. Addiction causes may vary, but it’s usually common for addicts to have co-occurring mental disorders, including PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), anxiety, and depression.

 

It is often common for an addiction to lead to dire consequences such as homelessness, job loss, severing ties with friends and family, health problems, financial issues, and more. Addiction causes may vary, but it’s usually common for addicts to have co-occurring mental disorders, including PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), anxiety, and depression.

Symptoms of addiction include:

  • Intense cravings for alcohol or drugs
  • No longer able to stop abusing a substance even when they want to
  • Lack of self-control
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Lack of emotions
  • Denial of how their addiction has started to affect their life

Trauma

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, trauma is defined as “a disordered behavioral or psychic state that has resulted from severe physical injury, mental or emotional stress.” There are many different trauma types, including:

  • Sexual assault
  • Physical assault
  • Bullying
  • Emotional abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • Terminal illness
  • Natural disaster
  • Domestic violence
  • Death
  • Neglect
  • Severe accident

However, in every case, trauma is defined as an “individual experience.” This often means that any event that has caused a person to feel like their life is under threat or when they feel unsafe is also defined as a traumatic experience or event.

Common indications of trauma include:

  • Mood swings
  • Low confidence
  • Avoiding triggers
  • Consistent feelings of anxiety or fear
  • Constantly feeling irritable
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Problems in professional, romantic, and social relationships
  • Mental disorders
  • Reliving the event
  • Difficulty regulating emotions

Common indications of trauma include:

Trauma has the potential to change a person’s brain. It may rewire it so that it processes behaviors and situations differently, which often leads to behavioral and cognitive problems. People that have experienced traumatic events usually have extremely high-stress levels, which causes cortisol levels to rise. 

These increased levels are what cause the brain to rewire and increase abnormal development. The chemicals in the brain then cause the person to relive a traumatic event constantly. This is what causes the person to experience feelings of wanting to escape in whatever way they can. It can also hinder the ability of the person to cope with what actually happened. 

When these events occur, many individuals turn to alcohol or drugs to numb or block out the effects that the traumatic event has caused. However, substance abuse over the long term usually turns into chronic addiction. When the brain is rewired, it causes the person to crave the substance they are abusing. This is also why it is very easy for addiction and trauma to co-exist. 

It is common for the person to continually use alcohol or drugs in an attempt to escape or forget about the memories relating to their trauma. The consequences linked to long-term abuse of a substance often worsen the symptoms linked to trauma

Treating A Dual Diagnosis

When it comes to treating addiction and trauma, the treatment plans are usually individualized.  They will depend on the patient’s needs along with the severity relating to their addiction and trauma. The ideal way to treat patients with a dual diagnosis of addiction and trauma involves developing a treatment plan that includes healing and dealing with both simultaneously.  

In many cases, the underlying cause of addiction stems from traumatic experiences. This is why treating addiction is essential first to find the root cause of addiction and then assist with developing the necessary skills to help the patient recover and heal. Medication and psychotherapy are frequently used to assist patients that are suffering from symptoms caused by trauma. 

Therapists work with patients to first understand any underlying causes that have caused the addiction. From here, the therapist can then help the patient develop coping strategies to deal with potential triggers or emotions that they struggle with in the future.  To give the person a chance to recover successfully, treatment should be carried out in a sober and safe environment where the person feels understood and comfortable.

 

Final Thoughts

Trauma, unfortunately, often plays an important role in developing an addiction since many people use alcohol or drugs to numb or escape from the effects caused by their trauma. Both addiction and trauma can change the development and function of the brain, which leads to chemical imbalances. 

Treatment for addiction and trauma often includes a plan that will treat both these diagnoses simultaneously. These programs are also tailored and personalized to the patient and implemented consistently to provide the person with the opportunity to achieve long-term recovery.

The Connection Between Addiction And Trauma