Trauma & Addiction: What You Should Know

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Dane O'Leary January 4, 2022

Several varying aspects of one’s life could lead to a substance abuse disorder. These factors can be either environmental or emotional, though it is often a combination of several that can lead someone to addiction. One common contributing cause is experiencing trauma. Recovery from trauma can be painful and cause debilitating symptoms. Symptoms that many cope with through substance abuse. The connection between trauma and addiction is multifaceted and often complex. The dual diagnosis of trauma and substance abuse have their own unique needs during recovery, as one is not just recovering from substance abuse but also treating one of the root causes of the addiction.

What Is Trauma?

Trauma is one’s emotional response to an emotionally or physically disturbing experience or series of events. Trauma can be experienced by anyone regardless of age, gender, or other social identities and is common among adults and children.

Experiencing a traumatic event or events can have long-term effects and could physically change how parts of the brain function. Studies show significant changes in the Amygdala, which regulates the “fight or flight” response, and the Cortex, which regulates reactivity and impulse control. The cortex functions are also heavily affected by substances like alcohol and drugs.

Types of trauma cover a wide range of events and can be caused by either witnessing or experiencing them. Types of traumatic events include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional/verbal abuse
  • Sexual assault or abuse
  • Economic hardship
  • War/terrorism
  • Gang/random violence or assault
  • Natural disasters
  • Accidents
  • Death or illness of loved ones
  • Illness and hospitalization

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder that develops after experiencing trauma. An estimated 3.5 percent of adults in the US develop PTSD, and approximately 1 in 11 people will be diagnosed at some point in their life. According to the National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it is common for people to experience traumatic events. Approximately 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women in the US experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. Furthermore, it is estimated that 14 to 15 percent of children and teenagers experience at least one traumatic event before reaching adulthood.

[Pullquote: “An estimated 3.5 percent of adults in the US develop PTSD, and approximately 1 in 11 people will be diagnosed at some point in their life.”]

Symptoms of PTSD

  • Invasive and uncontrolled flashbacks, memories, and images.
  • Extreme reactivity and arousal, causing excessive anger, irritability, irregular sleep, anxiety.
  • Invasive guilt and sadness
  • Avoidance of triggering places or people.

Other Trauma-Related Disorders

  • Reactive Attachment Disorder
  • Adjustment Disorders
  • Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder
  • Acute Stress Disorder

The Connection Between Trauma And Substance Abuse

Trauma symptoms could become debilitating and cause severe problems in everyday life if not treated effectively. These symptoms can vary in both severity and response time. Though trauma doesn’t directly lead to substance abuse, it can be a precursor.

59 percent of young people diagnosed with PTSD develop substance abuse issues

Persistent symptoms of trauma and the physical effects on the brain can lead to addictive behavior. The exact reasons are complex but stem from a desire to control and suppress the outcome of traumatic experiences. Victims of trauma could attempt to stifle or repress their trauma symptoms, whether it be pain and physical discomfort or elevated fear and anxiety.

A survey on adolescents in treatment for substance abuse found that 70 percent were the victims of a traumatic experience. Furthermore, studies also show the prevalence of comorbidity of PTSD and substance abuse disorders. An estimated 59 percent of young people diagnosed with PTSD develop substance abuse issues.

How To Treat Comorbid Disorders

A dual-diagnosis treatment plan, an integrated treatment plan that addresses both substance abuse disorders and mental health disorders such as PTSD, is considered the most effective. 

It can, at times, be challenging to receive dual-diagnosis treatment if the comorbid conditions are not correctly diagnosed. Some facilities only specialize or offer treatment for either substance abuse or mental health disorders. The overlap of these disorders could cause symptoms that negatively impact each other. But, when properly diagnosed, dual-diagnosis treatment plans address the comorbid disorders and their potential effects on each other. A dual-diagnosis treatment plan is often more personalized and accommodating to each individual, potentially leading to better outcomes.

Help Is Available at Silicon Beach Treatment Center

It is important to know that help is available when it comes to addiction and mental health. If you are in need of information and available resources, Silicon Beach Treatment Center is available to assist you on your path to recovery. 

For more information, please call 833 LA-REHAB (833-527-3422).

In the case of an emergency such as thoughts of suicide, seek out the nearest emergency room or call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available twenty-four hours a day and provides support and prevention for people experiencing a crisis. It is entirely free and confidential.

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