The Impact of Trauma on Addiction Healing Wounds to Break the Cycle

The Impact of Trauma on Addiction: Healing Wounds to Break the Cycle

Addiction is a complex condition with many root causes. After intensive research, many experts confirm a correlation between trauma and addiction. A study published by the National Library of Medicine concluded that there is a strong relationship between childhood trauma (adverse childhood experience or ACE) and substance use disorders. [1]

For those who have experienced trauma and find themselves in struggles with addiction, the inclusion of trauma treatment in their recovery program is essential. Addressing the impact of past traumatic events allows clients to heal and move forward.

Understanding Trauma and Its Role on Addiction

The Impact of Trauma on Addiction: Healing Wounds to Break the Cycle

Trauma is an emotional reaction to a distressing event. Two people can experience the same event and have very different reactions. Genetics, past experiences, and the amount of emotional support an individual receives all impact the way they process trauma.

Many different events can be considered traumatic. The types of trauma that can cause long-term harm are divided into two general categories:[2]

Type 1 Trauma

Type 1 trauma is a single, unexpected incident, such as:

  • Sexual or physical assault
  • Sudden loss of a loved one
  • A natural disaster
  • A near-death experience, such as a major car accident
  • Witnessing or being the direct victim of violence
  • Life-threatening injury or illness
  • Combat experience
  • Suicide attempt

Additionally, Type 1 trauma may also be referred to as acute trauma and may result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For example, surviving a near-fatal car accident can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, and more mental health problems that may or may not be related to car travel.

Type 2 Trauma

Type 2 trauma is also known as complex trauma. This type usually involves adverse childhood experiences such as:

  • Physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse
  • Neglect
  • Bullying
  • Domestic violence
  • Extreme poverty
  • Living in a war zone or being a refugee
  • Attachment trauma

Trauma does not always have to be experienced firsthand to be impactful. Hearing repetitive stories about a traumatic event or witnessing someone else’s trauma (such as when a child witnesses ongoing violence against a parent or sibling) is also defined as adverse experiences.

The Symptoms of Trauma

The Symptoms of Trauma

When experts talk about the symptoms of trauma, they are technically referring to the symptoms of either PTSD or ASD (acute stress disorder). On its own, “trauma” is not recognized as a disorder. However, both PTSD and ASD are.

Symptoms experienced by those affected by trauma may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Hypervigilance
  • Difficulty with focus and concentration
  • Insomnia, difficulty sleeping
  • Depression
  • Avoidance of the people, places, or events that remind you of the trauma
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Self-isolation
  • Anger, irritability
  • Violent outbursts
  • Substance abuse
  • Some people may turn to substances as a way to self-medicate the other symptoms of trauma or to block out the memories of traumatic experiences. Sadly, substance misuse can often lead to experiencing more types of trauma.

Treating Trauma and Addiction: There Is Hope

Treating Trauma and Addiction: There Is Hope

Trauma and addiction have a symbiotic relationship. The two experiences build on one another, each making the other worse. Drugs or alcohol may provide temporary relief from the symptoms of trauma, but misuse can increase symptoms in the long run. Getting professional help for both issues is the answer.

Trauma therapy is a type of mental health treatment designed to help relieve the impact of trauma. It is also referred to as trauma-focused therapy and trauma-informed care. Including trauma therapy and substance use disorder treatment in one program provides a comprehensive, holistic approach to rehab. Some of the therapies that may be included in trauma treatment include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Experiential therapy
  • Mindfulness therapies (such as yoga)

If a client has developed co-occurring mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety, appropriate medications may also be included.

Trauma can affect the part of the brain known as the amygdala. Without support, the amygdala can be slow to recover from the consistent heightened activity that trauma caused. Trauma therapists are specially trained to help clients overcome the lingering effects of trauma and return the amygdala to normal function.

Trauma-focused therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy are evidence-based and strongly recommended.[3] Trauma therapy can help you learn to process your feelings, prioritize self-care, and minimize negative habits like rumination — all valuable skills for addressing both trauma and addiction.

Benefits of Trauma Therapy

The Benefits of Trauma Therapy

Facing painful experiences from the past is difficult, but addressing trauma can improve your quality of life. Some of the benefits of trauma therapy include:

  • Building better relationships
  • Reframing past experiences to make sense of them
  • Learning new coping skills
  • Reducing feelings of anger and irritability
  • Reducing PTSD triggers
  • Reducing relapse triggers
  • Increasing peace of mind

No therapy can erase your memories of trauma, but treatment can help you learn new coping skills to manage the intense emotions related to the trauma. It may be recommended that an individual who is at high risk of self-harm or suicide engage in therapy that is emotionally stabilizing before beginning trauma treatment. In some cases, mood-stabilizing drugs are used to address self-harm or suicidal inclinations.

Find Help for Trauma and Addiction

It is no coincidence that trauma and addiction frequently occur together. Moreover, studies have shown that people who experience trauma, especially in childhood, are at higher risk for developing a substance use disorder.

Complex or type 2 trauma is the type of trauma most commonly related to addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder. Unfortunately, many people who suffer from type 2 trauma turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to self-medicate their symptoms.

It is not unusual for a person to learn for the first time that they have PTSD symptoms after they enter a substance use disorder treatment program. Whether you are aware of your traumatic past or have been deep in survival mode, it is never too late to heal.

Desert Cove Recovery offers comprehensive treatment programs that can help. Contact us today to learn more about our services and how healing past trauma can pave the way for a brighter future.