Trauma and addiction are both prominent influences in some people’s lives. Trauma can lead to both chemical and behavioral habits that threaten to take over daily aspects of someone’s personality and actions. The two can become so intertwined that to overcome an addiction one has to identify and treat any trauma that caused them to begin using in the first place. Many times, addiction is a result of trying to cope with past trauma or wound. Healing trauma can be an important part of truly recovering from any addiction.

Addiction treatment will involve therapy of some kind. During types of therapy, someone will explore what triggers them to use or act upon addictive behavior. Through counseling, they will be able to identify what traumatic event led them down a path of addiction and unhealthy coping mechanisms.

The good news is, healing trauma around addiction can help anyone understand themselves and their pasts better throughout addiction recovery. To give some more insight overall, this article will discuss:

  • How trauma causes addictions
  • Why someone becomes dependent on drugs or alcohol
  • How trauma and addiction can be healed by learning healthy coping techniques and past triggers.

Healing Trauma and Addiction in Treatment

If you enter into addiction recovery then you will learn that by confronting your trauma, you can also begin to combat your addiction and vice versa. Both will require the ability to identify and understand the trauma you have experienced. A therapist or counselor is the best option for getting a handle on all aspects of your past and how you can stop letting it affect your future.

Therapy during a 30-, 60- or 90-day rehab program is used to prepare those in recovery for life after their treatment. But many patients continue therapy for many months or years after rehab. Therapy helps individuals learn to cope with the causes of their addiction and how to handle triggers that could result in a relapse.

child running to parent in a meadow

People who experience a traumatic event or increased stress should turn to therapy to better understand the effect the trauma has had on their lives. Many different types of treatment cater to different addiction and trauma within an individual. Your therapist will identify and implement the best practices for your recovery, including teaching you healthier coping mechanisms.

How Trauma Causes Addiction

Trauma is defined as any deeply distressing or disturbing event one experiences or witnesses. Trauma often leads to unresolved feelings such as shame, dread, fear, and anxiety. When flooded with these types of emotions– if not given the right tools or comfort immediately– a person learns unhealthy coping techniques to handle the stress and discomfort.

Addictions are one of the most damaging and common coping mechanisms used to deal with trauma and stress.

Someone seeking comfort can temporarily find s sense of relief through the following addictions:

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Unhealthy sexual behavior
  • Gambling
  • Drug abuse
  • Compulsive shopping
  • Compulsive eating
  • Self-harm
  • Etc.

Traumatizing experience can alter how the brain functions. Furthermore, addiction can affect the brain’s neurochemistry. As a method to “block” reliving painful past wounds, an addiction can develop tolerance in an individual to expect their vice of choice to act as a biological function. Feeling a need for a specific substance or actions to feel good is what the mind is used to, so without that, it will cause the user to feel sick and uncomfortable.

A traumatized person will feel cravings on two levels. Their bodies will crave an addictive behavior because that is what they ‘ve grown used to, and they will also experience an insatiable yearning for their addiction to bring them a sense of inner freedom and comfort. They use their habits to distract from those feelings of shame, dread, fear, and anxiety that was brought on by trauma.

man recovering from addiction

If never dealt with appropriately, a trauma will still affect an individual years later. Trauma shapes the way someone sees and interacts with the world around them– possibly forever. To treat their addictions and move past them, they must get to the root of the problem, which is where the feelings stemmed.

Childhood Trauma

Trauma in children is particularly damaging because those distressing and disturbing events are more challenging to process and handle for someone so young. Children barely understand all of their emotions to begin with. Without adequate guidance or safety, they can be ill-equipped to figure out how to cope in the aftermath of trauma.

The most common examples of childhood trauma include:

  • Accidents
  • Bullying/cyberbullying
  • Chaos or dysfunction in the home
  • Death of a loved one
  • Emotional abuse
  • Emotional neglect
  • Physical abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Separation from a parent or caregiver
  • Sexual abuse
  • Stress caused by poverty
  • Sudden medical conditions
  • Violence
  • War/terrorism
  • Death of a parent
  • Foster care or being orphaned
  • Other Types of perceived Trauma

Childhood trauma is not the only trauma that leads to addiction. Sexual and physical abuse is a quite common past experience for women in recovery. Veterans often self-treat PTSD with substance abuse as well. Train professionals will be able to design a recovery program that can treat specific trauma for each unique individual.

Chemical Addictions

Many types of substances can cause chemical dependency. They have a direct effect on brain chemistry and quickly alter the mood of the user.

Stimulant-type drugs (cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, and heroin) increase the amount of dopamine released in the brain. The release is especially potent during the first use, and users tend to chase that feeling.

Drinking alcohol causes the release of feel-good chemicals known as endorphins in regions of the brain associated with reward processing. Some people have a stronger reaction to alcohol than others, which makes them more susceptible to becoming addicted. The stages of alcohol addiction can look unique to each person.

There are many different kinds of chemical addictions. What all chemical addictions have in common is that they affect brain chemistry. When you are using the substance, the chemicals make you feel happy, and once you are dependent on them, your brain will think that your body needs the alcohol or drug to function correctly. Healing from trauma aims to undo these learned mind/body habits and address the issue with a holistic solution of full recovery.

Behavioral Addictions

Behavioral addictions are over-looked because they can seem like regular activity. Some examples of common behavioral addiction are:

  • Sex
  • Food
  • Gambling
  • Video Games
  • Shopping

Even though these are considered behavioral addictions, they still affect brain chemistry as well. Doing things that make you feel good releases dopamine into the brain, and you can eventually become entirely dependent on that feeling, regardless of what causes it.

Using Healthy Coping Mechanisms

When dealing with a traumatic or stressful event, the way we react and adapt is our way of coping. When coping, people use a variety of different tactics to achieve a feeling of comfortability, these tactic are called coping mechanisms. A person can end up using a healthy and unhealthy coping mechanism.

Examples of healthy coping mechanisms:

  • Talking to others honestly about experiences
  • Therapy, counseling, or mentorship
  • Facing uncomfortable triggers as a means to work through them instead of avoiding them
  • Intentionally working through personal problems
  • Sustaining a close support group or solid friend group
  • Physical Exercise
  • Self-development and personal growth
  • Meditation
  • Emotional or Spiritual practices that enhance a person toward their personal healing process.

athletic man working out

Common unhealthy coping mechanisms include:

  • Withdrawing (from others and reality)
  • Overeating
  • Binge Drinking
  • Gambling
  • Unsafe sex
  • Experimenting with drugs
  • Theft
  • Reckless driving
  • Self-harm
  • Self-sabotage
  • Blaming others for one’s own faults or mistakes
  • Victimization of self
  • Numbing the pain through any means of avoidance or distraction

Different emotions drive people to a variety of coping mechanisms, whether healthy or not. They may use these mechanisms as a method to escape, self-sooth, or distract from stressful events or experiencing emotions related to past trauma.

As you can see, many of the unhealthy coping mechanisms can potentially lead to addiction. Through recovery and professional treatment, a therapist will help you learn to use healthy coping mechanism instead of unhealthy ones and confront what led you to need your addiction in the first place.

What Does All This Mean?

The correlation between traumatic events and addiction is a complex issue that can take years of help to overcome. It can be a lifelong process of personal self-discovery and wellness. Healing from trauma, like anything else, takes time and patience. With the right support, it is possible to heal.

Not being taught healthy mechanisms to cope with stress and trauma can lead to a lifelong battle with substance and behavioral addictions. Most importantly, when recovering from any long-term addiction, make it a point to address any past traumas or painful experiences that might have led you to cope.

Healing trauma through the addiction recovery process is one we internationally focus on here at Opus Health and our recovery programs. With the desire to get better, overcome addiction, and get free from past trauma, recovery is possible.

If you or a loved one needs help, call us at 949-625-4019.

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