Trauma and Addiction: An Unfortunate Connection

By August 10, 2021May 8th, 2024Trauma
trauma and addiction

Addiction happens for many different reasons. But, all too often, there is something deeper below the surface – most often trauma – that draws an individual into a life of substance abuse. 

Whether your trauma stems from something that happened in childhood or as an adult, the mental and emotional impact of these events can be powerful – and they don’t just disappear. That is why many who have suffered through trauma turn to substance abuse as a means of self-medicating or coping. Unfortunately, addiction follows. To break this cycle, both the addiction and the trauma need to be addressed. 

What is Trauma?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), trauma is “any disturbing experience that results in significant fear, helplessness, dissociation, confusion, or other disruptive feelings intense enough to have a long-lasting negative effect on a person’s attitudes, behavior, and other aspects of functioning. Traumatic events include those caused by human behavior (e.g., rape, war, industrial accidents) as well as by nature (e.g., earthquakes) and often challenge an individual’s view of the world as a just, safe, and predictable place.” 

A few common traumatic events are: 

  • Bullying
  • Car accidents
  • Fires
  • Domestic violence
  • Sexual assault or rape
  • Verbal/emotional abuse
  • Parental neglect/ unstable home life
  • Natural disasters
  • Chronic medical issues or pain

Immediately following trauma, feelings of shock, denial, and even anger are quite common. But, the impact of trauma will extend much further than just today, tomorrow, or next month. In fact, the impact of trauma can last a lifetime — especially if it is not appropriately addressed and treated. 

Some long-term effects of trauma are: 

  • Broken or strained relationships
  • Headaches
  • Flashbacks
  • Out of control emotions
  • Nausea

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), traumatic events are experienced by at least 51% of women and 61% of men at least once in their lifetime. 

Childhood Trauma

Childhood trauma is one type of trauma that many people feel the effects of, but many don’t even realize why. Sometimes things happened in the past that we actively repress and try to forget, and others, we have allowed our subconscious mind to push the painful memories aside without our conscious awareness. Regardless of how we have tried to help protect ourselves from these painful memories, childhood trauma is powerful. And it can impact survivors for a lifetime if not addressed. 

Childhood trauma, according to the Center for Child Trauma Assessment, Services, and Interventions, is “a scary, dangerous, violent, or life-threatening event that happens to a child (0-18 years of age). This type of event may also happen to someone your child knows and your child is impacted as a result of seeing or hearing about the other person being hurt or injured.”

Trauma Symptoms: Behavioral and Psychological

Whether you have experienced childhood trauma or a traumatic event in more recent years, the behavioral and psychological impact is still there. And, believe it or not, there are many short-term and long-term symptoms that can occur. It is important to remember, however, that trauma is very personal and it affects each person differently. 

Here are a few behavioral and psychological symptoms of trauma

  • Chronic irritability and aggravation
  • Fear and nervousness – even when it seems unfounded
  • Avoiding things that are reminiscent of the trauma
  • Uncontrolled – and excessive – emotions
  • Shy, social awkwardness
  • Lack of confidence
  • Major mood swings
  • Replaying the traumatic event over and over

Impact of Trauma on Life

Trauma can impact all areas of your life. It may have been something very personal that happened — and there may not be another soul on this planet who knows about the trauma. But the internal damage that the event/s caused can severely and negatively impact all areas of your life. 

Your work/career/professional life can be affected by your trauma. That’s right – it can follow you into the workplace. It controls how you relate to others, the level of trust you have, how you handle adversity and responsibility, and more. 

Relationships and friendships are also impacted by the lasting effects of your trauma. Again, trust issues play a big role in disrupting relationships. Understandably, intimacy can also be especially tough for those who have experienced sexual assault, abuse, or trauma. Overall, confidence, self-worth, sexual identity, unhealthy boundaries, all seem to surface. 

Living a quality life dealing with these effects of trauma can be incredibly difficult. 

The Link Between Trauma and Addiction

Now that you have an idea of just how powerful trauma can be — and how great of a hold it can have on your life, it is easier to understand how the search for relief can lead someone down the road to addiction. Whether it is the right or the wrong answer, the substance provides a moment of relief from the horrific trauma symptoms. 

It is usually never the intention of the individual to use a substance as a means of coping with the heavy emotions from trauma. But it is the lack of healthy coping skills that can allow the unhealthy coping skills to take over. And this momentary reprieve brought by drugs or alcohol abuse can very easily turn into a compulsion or habit and, eventually, an addiction. 

Trauma that is left untreated can lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). And both can make life rather difficult. Before you know it, treatment needs to be sought for both – the addiction and the trauma. 

Approach to Treatment

As you can tell, the effects of trauma don’t just disappear. They require you to work through them, slowly learning how to cope with the effects of the trauma. This means addressing the event itself and any triggers that may go along with it. And while you can’t just erase, you can learn to handle what happened to you — without having to turn to a substance to do so. 

Learning about habits and addictive behaviors, as well as how to manage your addiction is also crucial for a successful recovery. So, in other words, these situations can only be handled in a treatment program that addresses both issues.

If you find yourself dealing with addiction and an underlying trauma of any type, your best course of action is to seek a holistic women’s treatment center that will help you find healing for your whole body. 


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