Trauma can affect anyone in any walk of life. While certain people might be more prone to traumatic experiences based on a variety of different factors, such as their job, traumatic experiences aren’t exclusive to any certain person. After a traumatic experience, everyone deals with the effects of that experience in their own way. 

Unfortunately, many people turn to drugs and alcohol to help numb the pain from the experience and help them forget about it. For some people, they feel shame or embarrassment as a result of their experience and turn to substances to try and forget it happened. Many times, this can lead to addiction. On this page, we are going to take a look at the connection between trauma and addiction.

What Is Trauma?

While many people associate trauma with witnessing or experiencing something violent or scary, there are many different things that can be deemed traumatic. In fact, when a person fears for his/her safety or experiences intense pain that person can also be described as having experienced trauma. 

How someone reacts to their traumatic experience can vary based on a number of factors such as age and just how traumatic the experience itself was. For example, if someone experienced trauma when they were a child, it is likely to have more severe lasting effects on them than if that same experience had happened when they were an adult. This is because they likely did not get the services they needed at the time and chances are they had no advocate either. Some common example of trauma or traumatic experiences include:

  • Domestic violence
  • Natural disasters
  • Growing up in an unstable home
  • Battling a life-threatening condition
  • Witnessing a graphic injury or death
  • Child abuse
  • Sexual abuse such as rape
  • Military combat
  • Car accidents
  • Repeated bullying
  • Street violence

If trauma is not addressed properly and promptly, it can lead to significant adverse effects on a person’s life. PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is one of the most common ailments that can occur as a result of trauma.

What Are Some Signs of Trauma?

Many people that suffer from trauma try and hide it the best they can. For some, the traumatic experience was so embarrassing or shameful to them that they bury it and don’t want anyone to ever know about it. While it can be tough to identify at times, there are some signs and symptoms to look out for when it comes to someone suffering from trauma, including:

  • The development of an eating disorder
  • Erratic behavior
  • Dramatic changes in mood
  • Excessive or inappropriate displays of emotions
  • Increased and prolonged anxiety, fear, or nervousness
  • Prolonged agitation or irritability
  • Avoiding things that remind you of the traumatic experience
  • Continually reliving the event
  • Romantic and social relationship issues

How Does Trauma Affect the Human Body?

The human body is highly regulated. While it is resilient, it can also be very sensitive. Just the slightest change internally can send the body spiraling out of control. A great example of this is trauma and the way the body reacts to trauma and stress. If you find yourself in a scary or potentially dangerous situation, your body’s first instinct is to do something that will keep you safe. 

When that happens, your body immediately produces a significant amount of adrenaline, opening up the airways and increasing the heart rate. Your body will react differently depending on the severity of the situation. 

If your body goes through a very traumatic experience, or experiences trauma frequently, it can be damaging to the body’s physiological systems. Trauma responses act on several systems that affect a person’s physiology. In fact, according to the CDC, exposure to trauma leads to a variety of biological changes and stress responses. These biological changes relate to PTSD, other mental illnesses, and substance abuse disorders. Some of the biological changes doctors have seen include:

  • Changes in the limbic system and how it functions
  • Hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis activity changes with variable cortisol levels
  • Neurotransmitter-related dysregulation of arousal and endogenous opioid systems

How Can Trauma Lead To Addiction?

Everyone handles things that happen in their lives differently. How we handle certain situations can go a long way in determining the effects it has on our lives. Unfortunately, many people who suffer from trauma turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to self-medicate. Often, this can lead to substance abuse. 

trauma and addiction

When someone finds themselves suffering from both trauma and addiction, it can be considered a co-occurring disorder. So, how exactly can trauma lead to addiction? Well, the answer can be more complicated than you think.

For starters, as mentioned above, some people have trouble dealing with the effects of the traumatic experience and turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. Symptoms of trauma, such as insomnia, agitation, depression, social withdrawal, and hypersensitivity to loud noises or sudden movement may seem more manageable to the person suffering if they use drugs or alcohol. In reality, though, that “cure” actually causes more problems in the long run, with addiction being the biggest issue. 

Additionally, there is also a correlation between trauma and addiction when it comes to lifestyle choices. Someone who has a tendency to put themselves in harm’s way more often has a higher chance of not just succumbing to addiction, but putting themselves in a position where experiencing trauma is more likely. Unsavory acquaintances, dangerous neighborhoods, impaired driving, and other potentially dangerous things that are associated with substance abuse can also increase the chances of a traumatic experience such as crime, accidents, violence, and abuse.

There is also a genetic component to the correlation between trauma and addiction. Those who have a greater chance of developing an addiction due to their genetic makeup are more likely to develop an addiction if they undergo a traumatic experience than someone who doesn’t have addiction running in their family. 

How Can I Treat Both My Trauma and Addiction?

The first step in getting the help you need for both trauma and addiction is admitting that you have a problem and need help. For many people who suffer from addiction as a result of their trauma, not doing this, in the beginning, played a major roll in the development of the addiction. Getting help for your trauma right away can go a long way in preventing the development of a substance abuse addiction down the road.

Before treatment can begin for both the trauma and the addiction, the person affected must first undergo detox treatment for the substance or substances of abuse. During the detox process, the person will rid their bodies of whatever substances they grew dependant on or addicted to. This typically occurs in a professional detox center, a facility that provides detox services, or at a medical facility that provides detox services.

Due to the reaction that detox has on your body, it is crucial that detox is done in a facility that has trained medical professionals. Self-detoxing can be incredibly dangerous and even life-threatening.

Inpatient Treatment and Therapy

After detox, you will enter either inpatient or outpatient treatment. Your therapist will recommend what type of treatment to enter based on what works best for you. During treatment, you will participate in various forms of therapy. Therapy works to address not just your addiction but what led to your addiction. 

Therapy is a great way to not only help treat your trauma, but it also helps you identify what exactly drove you to drugs and alcohol in the first place. It helps you look within yourself and allows you to come to terms with the issues that have arisen. It also teaches you healthier ways to deal with your trauma that doesn’t involve turning to drugs and alcohol.

At Coastal Detox, we are proud to offer a wide variety of therapy programs. Each program works to help the patient the best way possible. Our team of licensed clinicians presents therapy approaches that can help each client learn how to live a healthy, fulfilling, sober life. These therapies include:

  • Individual Therapy
  • Group Therapy
  • Trauma Therapy (including EMDR)
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Relapse Prevention
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Wellness Groups
  • Family Therapy

Want To Know More About the Connection Between Trauma and Addiction?

While it’s not always possible to prevent traumatic experiences from happening, it is possible to prevent that traumatic experience from causing your life to spiral out of control. Addressing the traumatic experience and getting help for it early can go a long way in helping the prevention of an addiction developing. For those that might have developed an addiction as a result of their traumatic experience, we are here to help.

At Coastal Detox, we don’t want you to go even another day with your addiction having a stronghold over your life. If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction as a result of experiencing trauma, contact us today to learn more about the treatment programs that we offer.