The impact of trauma can significantly influence the progression of drug and alcohol abuse and the development of substance use disorders (SUDs). Different types of trauma, including “big t trauma” and “little t trauma,” affect individuals in various ways, leading to unhealthy coping mechanisms, avoidant behaviors, and altered brain chemistry.

Understanding Different Types of Trauma: Big T and Little T

When it comes to trauma, individuals may experience distressing events in different scales that are traumatic but less severe than some others. Little t traumas are chronic stressors that disrupt emotional functioning and often go unrecognized as traumatic events. Examples of little t traumas may include divorce from both the parent’s experience and the children, relocating, financial struggles, infidelity, neglect, and interpersonal conflict. This type of trauma is often overlooked as an ordinary life experience that has no lasting impact, while it does impact the individual psychologically.

While small t trauma may not lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it can lead to mental health issues and patterns of substance use as a coping mechanism.

woman struggling with trauma and substance abuse, big t trauma and little t trauma on substance abuse

Big t traumas are more severe traumatic events such as natural disasters, sexual assault, combat, or terrorist attacks. These types of traumatic events have a profound and immediate impact on an individual’s psychological state, leaving them feeling powerless and defeated. Large t traumas can cause individuals significant distress and emotional instability, interfering with daily functioning and quality of life.

Without trauma therapy and treatment, big t traumas can develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health disorders. Substance abuse and trauma often correlate as individuals abuse substances to cope with symptoms and numb emotional pain.

The Connection Between Trauma and Substance Abuse

Big t and minor t trauma can influence unhealthy patterns of drug and alcohol use, potentially leading to addiction. While not all types of trauma precipitate PTSD, it can introduce affected individuals to a heightened sensitivity to stress, avoidant behaviors, and altered brain chemistry. Mental health disorders and trauma disorders like PTSD often correlate with substance abuse from emotional impairments and maladaptive coping mechanisms.

Coping Mechanism

Many individuals who struggle with mental health issues such as trauma may turn to alcohol or drugs as a means to cope. Substance use may temporarily help individuals with trauma relieve overwhelming emotions, anxiety, or depression. The relief and numbing that drugs and alcohol may offer for emotional pain is short-lived and can exacerbate feelings of loneliness, stress, and anxiety.

Using substances to cope is a slippery slope that, more often than not, leads to increased tolerance, dependence, and, eventually, addiction.

Altered Brain Chemistry

Traumatic experiencesemotional neglect, sexual assault, or a tragic accidentcan alter brain chemistry, structures, and functions. The neurological impact of trauma can alter brain regions responsible for emotional regulation, reward, and stress. Big t trauma and little t trauma can change the brain’s stress response in the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala regions.

man struggling with big t and little t trauma and substance abuse

Trauma increases cortisol and norepinephrine in the brain, associated with heightened stress levels and responsiveness to stressors. The toll that trauma takes on the brain negatively impacts mood and well-being, generating feelings of depression and anxiety. The neurochemical imbalance may drive individuals to substance use to seek a sense of pleasure or normalcy. Repeated substance use further disrupts the brain’s natural structure and function, increasing the risk of dependence and addiction.

Increased Sensitivity to Stress

Trauma’s neurological impact increases cortisol levels, heightening an individual’s sensitivity to stressors. Many may try to manage high-stress levels with drugs or alcohol to promote relaxation and relieve anxiety. Drinking alcohol or taking drugs when experiencing heightened stress can quickly evolve into a substance use disorder (SUD). Repeated drug and alcohol use increases the individual’s tolerance to the substance, requiring them to take higher doses to achieve the same effect.

Behavioral and Emotional Avoidance

Drugs and alcohol are often used in an attempt to avoid or escape from troubling emotions or thoughts related to the trauma. Emotional avoidance in trauma survivors prevents them from receiving the necessary treatment to process and heal from traumatic experiences.

Behavioral avoidance may cause them to avoid certain places or people, which can be a distressing reminder. This avoidance and escapism fuels the cycle of using substances as a maladaptive coping mechanism.

Impaired Social and Emotional Skills

Both big t and little t trauma, especially in early childhood, can impair social and emotional development. Individuals living with untreated trauma can face difficulties forming and maintaining relationships, managing their emotions, and functioning in social settings. They might choose to avoid social settings due to social anxiety or feeling different because of their trauma.

Often, people indulge in substance use to cope with social anxiety and feel more confident and comfortable in social situations. People with trauma may begin depending on drugs or alcohol when socializing and not be able to function correctly without it.

Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders

Trauma disorders are often linked with other mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Mental illness frequently co-occurs with substance use disorders (SUDs), each condition provoking the other. Co-occurring disorders in individuals with PTSD are often a result of trauma survivors using drugs or alcohol to self-medicate their distressing symptoms.

Treating both trauma and substance abuse requires a comprehensive treatment approach, also known as dual diagnosis treatment.

in therapy and drug rehab treatment for trauma and substance abuse, dual diagnosis treatment south florida

Treating Trauma and Addiction: Dual Diagnosis Treatment in Stuart, FL

Understanding how big t and little t trauma influence drug and alcohol abuse helps administer effective treatment and prevention strategies. While both types of trauma can leave a lasting imprint, everyone has their own story and experience that affects them uniquely.

Treating trauma and a substance use disorder (SUD) in dual diagnosis treatment targets the emotional pain and distress that led to substance abuse. Through trauma therapy, evidence-based treatments, and drug rehab, Coastal Detox’ holistic treatment and care provides patients with the necessary tools for healing and recovery.

For dual diagnosis treatment and holistic drug detox in South Florida, reach out today. Coastal Detox offers dual diagnosis programs in Stuart, FL, for individuals battling mental health and substance abuse.

We’re here to support you every step of the way. Call Coastal Detox now.