Trauma and Addiction: Making the Connection

Addiction

Trauma and addiction are closely connected.

If you’ve suffered through a traumatic event in your past, you may be experiencing emotional, physical and psychological side effects as a result. Many people who experience trauma develop substance use disorders later in life.

If you experienced trauma and now find that you’re also dealing with an addiction, the substance abuse may be connected to the traumatic event you experienced. Let’s explore the close relationship between trauma and addiction.

What Is Trauma?

Trauma is a deeply distressing experience, such as the sudden loss of a loved one, physical or sexual abuse, warfare and natural disasters. It’s living through an ordeal that challenged your perception of your place in the world. If you’ve experienced trauma, you may feel terrified, powerless and confused. A deep sense of loss typically accompanies these feelings.

For some people, these feelings are temporary. But for others, a traumatic event can result in post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD symptoms include flashbacks, bad dreams, intrusive thoughts, anxiety and difficulty sleeping.

How Trauma Affects the Brain

Trauma affects the brain in the following ways:

  • The amygdala, your brain’s alarm system for when threats are detected, can become hyperactive due to trauma. Your brain then constantly engages in scanning for and assessing threats. The result is that you’ll feel constantly anxious, vulnerable and fearful.
  • The hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that processes your memories, can change. Instead of depositing memories in the outer layer of the brain for long-term storage, memories are stuck in a “here and now” loop. You’ll then experience intrusive and disturbing memories over and over.
  • The cortex, the part of your brain that helps you accomplish tasks, is overridden by deeper instincts of survival that come from deep within your inner brain. Survival instincts can overcome logic, decrease your thinking processes and diminish your ability to control your behavior.

The Connection Between Trauma and Addiction

Research shows that people who were physically or emotionally traumatized are at a much higher risk of abusing drugs or alcohol. As symptoms of PTSD become increasingly difficult to manage, people may self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to find temporary relief. Ongoing substance abuse can develop into an addiction, in which use is no longer voluntary.

trauma and addiction

When trauma and addiction are both present, this is known as co-occurring disorders. Professional help is almost always needed to find lasting recovery from both trauma and addiction, as each needs to be treated in context of the other.

Getting Help for Trauma and Addiction

A successful treatment plan will address both trauma and addiction at the same time. If only one condition is treated and the other is left untreated, the likelihood of relapse is extremely high.

Seek help for trauma and addiction from a treatment center or mental health professional that specializes in trauma-informed care and dual diagnoses. Trauma-informed care is structured in a way that provides safety, builds trust and takes all symptoms of trauma into account.

If you or a loved one are experiencing addiction and also have a history of trauma, a high-quality treatment center that provides trauma-informed care will allow you to move forward and find healing from trauma and addiction.