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addiction and trauma treatment

The Truth About Addiction and Trauma Treatment

Table of Contents

How Do Addiction and Trauma Treatment Influence Each Other?

There are many theories on “what” addiction is and where it truly stems from. But probably one of the most commonly-studied influences in today’s mental health sphere is the relationship between addiction and trauma treatment.

Whether it be a suppressed childhood trauma, PTSD from an accident, or mild to severe abuse between adults, traumatic experiences can take a negative toll on anyone. Sometimes even to the point of being unaware of how it leads one to face self-sabotage or even substance abuse.

The Effects of Emotional Abuse and Trauma on Addiction

Why do so many people turn to drugs or alcohol after experiencing some type of abuse or trauma? To start to understand the answers, first, we need to look at what abuse and trauma cause within the mind and body.

The definition of trauma according to SAMHSA says:

“Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening with lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.”

Many traumatic experiences can negatively impact brain circuits and impulse stress regulation in the brain. This means a person who grew up with abuse– or any person who goes through significant trauma at any age– can develop problems managing their emotions.

An increase in anxiety and depression, plus a higher focus on the “fight or flight” signals in the brain can become regular struggles. Sadly these things can occur without the traumatized person even realizing what’s happening. Because of this, many people turn to outside coping mechanisms in an attempt to help soothe the pain. Two of the most common coping methods include drugs and alcohol.

Why People Turn to Drugs and Alcohol After Trauma

Many drugs cause dramatic changes in brain chemistry. For example, alcohol is a depressant which means it slows down the basic functions of the Central Nervous System. Anyone who consumes enough alcohol finds that it impairs their senses, perceptions, physical reactions, and emotions.

For someone dealing with the lasting effects of trauma or abuse, alcohol tunes out or turns down the dial of any difficult emotions. Drinking to the point of blacking out quite literally allows a person to “tune out” of reality so they don’t have to confront trauma or abuse which brings pain and discomfort to their daily lives.

Other types of drugs offer different reactions, but for the most part, drug and alcohol consumption all come down to the same intention: to distract, escape, or emotionally turn off from personal pain from trauma or abuse. In some cases, like when a person has panic attacks, insomnia, and a slew of other symptoms occurring at once, substance use helps him or her fall asleep.

People who use substances to “relieve” negative emotions can soon grow dependent on them. This is because:

  • The individual finds it hard to cope in real life without feeling impaired or “numb”
  • Their tolerance to the substance(s) grows higher and therefore they need more of the drug to feel okay
  • Using substances as a “cruth” to ignore anxiety, depression, or painful memories increases to the point where a person needs to use them in order to function without panicking.

Common Substances Dealing with Addiction and Trauma Treatment:

Technically, people can use any substance to help them avoid fully coping with trauma, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or verbal abuse. Some of the most common we see are:

  • Alcohol
  • Cannabis
  • Opioids, like heroin 
  • Prescription drugs or pain pills
  • Stimulants, like cocaine
  • Illicit drugs, like meth
  • Psychedelics or party drugs

A study from the US National Library of Medicine shows: “Emotional abuse in men significantly correlates to current heroin exposure, whereas in women it is linked to heavier lifetime cocaine use.”

Usually, trauma comes before addiction develops. But in some cases, the act of partaking in continual drug use can result in becoming part of a traumatic situation. Either way, the two often remain connected.

Addiction + Mental Illness = Dual Diagnosis

A dual diagnosis or a co-occurring disorder is when an individual has a diagnosed mental illness and a diagnosed substance abuse disorder at the same time. The two are sometimes quite common as a result of long-term childhood trauma or physical violence. Trauma can shape the brain. This is where we see in science that addiction is not merely “bad” people who don’t know how to have enough self-will. This mentality that looks down on addicts is an unhealthy stigma society holds– one that needs to be changed if we want to heal the issue.

Many experts say addiction is a result of a person trying to cover up abusive or traumatic events. Instead of healing the root issue through types of therapies, personal growth, clear communication, and professional care,  addiction happens when the person tries to mask the symptoms.

Things like PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), abusive relationships, self-loathing, chronic anxiety, unhealthy lifestyle are all results that can stem from long-term abuse.

What Defines Trauma?

Trauma can be anything that occurs in a person’s life where they experience intense emotional, physical, or mental wounding. In fact, the word “trauma” is actually the Greek word for “wound”.  

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines trauma as a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury.

Trauma overrides one’s ability to escape or cope with a harmful situation. An example of this is when a child gets violated in some way but is too young to understand fully how to process the experience. Nor do they know how to get help or find safety to get out of it. The longer this child is abused, the more damage will likely be done to their mental state. Sadly, this can lead to lifelong personal and mental issues they carry throughout the rest of their lives.

Other types of trauma include (but are not limited to):

  • Extreme neglect
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse or rape
  • Emotional abuse
  • Extreme physical injury
  • Motorized accidents
  • Combat or war
  • Living in an unsafe environment
  • Psychological abuse
  • Witnessing a heinous crime
  • Kidnapping
  • Constant bullying
  • Racism
  • Being a victim of ongoing harassment or stalking
  • Religious Trauma Syndrome
  • Surviving a natural disaster
  • Terrorism
  • Brainwashing or severe manipulation

As you can see, there are countless types of trauma. Some psychologists claim most if not all, people experience some type of traumatic event in their life, whether mild or extreme. The main result of abuse or trauma is it leads to a sense of hopelessness, disempowerment, or lack of connection to the self and others.

How Abuse, Trauma, and Addiction Correlate

  • 27% of veterans who suffer from PTSD also have a substance use disorder.
  • 52% of men with PTSD abuse alcohol, as do 27% of women.
  • Drug addiction is present on average in 30% of men and women with PTSD. 
  • Nearly 75% of all people who have had some type of trauma claim they struggled with alcoholism.

Healing the Roots of Trauma

How can someone successfully heal from trauma? First, we must realize the fact that substance abuse and mental issues– as well as trauma– often go hand-in-hand. To truly heal from one, we must address all of these.

Thankfully, many professional treatment centers and the mental health services administration work to focus on a trauma-focused treatment plan for people who need it.

Trauma and Addiction: Influence on the Brain

Trauma has been shown to impact brain processes in a variety of ways, in addition to the detrimental consequences, it may have on your body, heart, and soul. If the trauma causes any or all of these changes in brain function, you’re more likely to become addicted to substances or behaviors that help you disregard the malfunctions instead of finding a way to fix them. Ignoring substance abuse or addiction may lead you to seek help at local centers such as Huntington Beach drug rehab facilities. If addiction escalates, you may require services like those available at detox centers in Orange County.

Memory Processing 

Trauma can slow down your ability to normally place memories in the correct categories. Instead of storing old memories in one section and more current recollections in another, trauma and addiction can skew the process.

Risk Assessment

Normally functioning brains have different levels of the “flee or fight” instincts as well as the intuition that prevent you from walking alone down dark alleys or disarming criminals. Trauma can cause brain dysfunction that makes you paranoid as well as brings on panic attacks, instill feelings of groundless fear, and elevate vulnerability.

trauma and addiction

Behavior Control

When your brain is healthy and functioning normally, you are inclined to make sound decisions. Trauma frequently scrambles those instincts and inhibits cognitive processing, impairs logical thought development, and makes you unable to control your behavior, including the abuse of substances or self-destructive acts like anorexia and physical self-harming.

Addiction as Survival

Contrary to popular thinking, many people who have experienced severe trauma become abusers and addicts, not for recreation but simply to survive. When you feel the world has gone mad and you don’t want to be a victim of the insanity surrounding you, safety and control seem like the perfect solutions to your problems.

Trauma frequently generates feelings of frustration, embarrassment, shame, or other depressing emotions. Addiction is often the result of your desire to protect yourself, to “fix” things. Your intentions are good but your judgment is clouded.
There are seven common thoughts that can lead to addiction stemming from trauma.

Pain Relief 

Ingesting substances that alter your reality often results in adrenaline rushes that mask pain and give you relief from the pain of remembering the trauma.

Feeling Safe 

The euphoric effects of drugs and alcohol instill a sense of safety and security because they let you forget, even for a short time, the vulnerability of being a victim.

Build an Alternate Universe

Trauma victims often live in a world full of horrible memories. Maintaining a mental state through substance abuse creates a more manageable world free of bad memories.

What Do You Deserve?

If you have survived trauma, you are inclined to feel cheated, like you got the short end of the stick in life. Addiction is often viewed as your chance to get what you deserve.

Control is King in Trauma and addiction 

Even though control is admired and often overrated, abusive victims are prone to see it as an antidote to being persecuted. Ingesting mind-altering substances creates delusions of strength and courage many trauma sufferers see as the key to happiness.

A New You

The effects of trauma never disappear. Even if you appear emotionally healthy and self-assured, you’ll frequently have spells of feeling worthless and alone. Immersing yourself in addiction can make you feel accepted and part of a group you can identify with.

Stop Remembering 

People who haven’t been traumatized generally relish the memories of their lives. Trauma victims spend endless hours trying to forget. Substance abuse is a quick and easy way to quash memories.

If you or a loved one needs help with Drug and Alcohol Abuse Treatment, call Opus Health at 855-953-1345

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