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Trauma and Addiction: How are They Linked to One Another?

If you are someone who has lived through a traumatic event, you may also suffer from an addiction. Up until today, you might not have thought that they were linked to each other at all. However, research suggests otherwise.

According to WebMD, there are many different things that can cause addictions. In many cases, trauma is one of the most common causes. If you’re a drug addict or an alcoholic, and you’ve lived through a trauma, the two probably have a connection. Understanding this connection is the key to getting you the help you need to recover.

Perhaps you’ve been told that you needed to go to rehab for your addiction. You might agree with this statement, and maybe you’ve even gone. The problem is you’re still addicted. Unless the trauma has been treated, the likelihood of you recovering is slim to none. Treating both conditions at the same time is what is going to help you the most.

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What is a Trauma?

When most professionals discuss trauma, they’re talking about psychological trauma. These are events that occur that cause a significant change in the way a person thinks. They can occur for all different reasons, and on all different levels of severity.

People generally believe they’ve lived through a trauma when an event moves beyond their ability to cope. Because of this, what one person views as a trauma, another person might view as a stressor. Most people find it hard to move past these events on their own. They usually need the help of a professional to guide them through the healing process.

There are many different forms of traumatic events because they are highly subjective. While this list is by no means exhaustive, you may have lived through one if you’ve experienced:

  • Getting bullied at school when you were younger
  • Child sexual abuse
  • Verbal abuse at the hands of your parents
  • Harassment in any form
  • Being publicly humiliated
  • The death of a close loved one or friend
  • Living through a natural disaster
  • A tragic accident
  • A domestic violence situation

Again, everyone experiences trauma differently. You may have gone through a situation that isn’t listed here, and yet, it affected you profoundly. Your situation should not be discounted by anyone. If you experienced changes in your emotions and mental well being as a result, it was a traumatic event.

Many of the signs of psychological trauma mimic those of other mental health conditions. That means that this condition is often misdiagnosed. Someone who has been through one of these events may show the following signs:

  • Appearing to be disoriented
  • Often appearing to be withdrawn
  • Symptoms of anxiety
  • Nightmares and even night terrors
  • Always feeling on edge
  • Problems with concentration
  • Significant mood swings
  • Frequent emotional outbursts

It’s possible that you may live your life in constant state of anger. You may always feel like you’re on the verge of breaking down into tears. These are all normal responses. You may find yourself thinking about the event nearly all the time. It’s almost as if it has permeated every corner of your life.

The Difference Between PTSD and Trauma

Sometimes people believe that trauma and PTSD are the same, but they’re actually different. Unexpected, negative events are what lead to experiencing a trauma. However, PTSD is the condition that can result when that trauma goes unresolved for too long.

Trauma and Addiction

Fortunately, most people are able to successfully process traumatic events. They may have their own ways of coping, such as journaling or talking with family. Before too long, they’re able to return to their normal ways of functioning. Those that don’t process it well will often eventually develop symptoms of PTSD.

Do People Always Remember These Events?

No, they do not. On the surface, this might seem like a good thing. If people always remembered these events, they could hurt them over and over again. However, the problem is that even though these painful memories are tucked away, they can still hurt.

According to research done by Northwestern University, traumatic events frequently hide in the brain. These stressful experiences will lie there, hidden away like shadows. Researchers believe that this is done to protect the individual from the emotional pain and turmoil. However, even when they can’t remember them, these memories still cause issues.

Quite often, they will lead to serious psychological difficulties. People may suffer from depression and anxiety, but have no idea why. It often takes trauma therapy to trigger those memories so that they can be dealt with properly.

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How Traumas Effect People Who Suffer Through Them

These events have the power to permeate every area of your life. They specifically may negatively impact the area of your life that is most closely related to them. For instance, someone who suffered from childhood sexual abuse may be impacted in adulthood. It may be impossible for them to connect emotionally to another person and form a relationship with them.

Everyone knows about the trauma that war veterans have suffered through. Many of them suffer years later because of it. Hearing fireworks or a gunshot brings those painful memories back to the surface again.

Someone who has been through a trauma has a hard time coping in many areas of their life. They may frantically look for some way to help their symptoms. This is why so many people turn to drugs or alcohol.

Thus far, we’ve talked about trauma and its effect on people psychologically. It’s important to note that there is a physiological part to it as well. When someone has lived through such a terrible event, there are bound to be consequences. Sometimes that stress can show itself in various physical ways.

If you have lived through one of these events, your likelihood of developing heart disease increases. You are also at an increased risk for diabetes and you may eventually be diagnosed with cancer.

The mind and the body are so closely linked to one another. This is what leads to these conditions.

Someone with a traumatic history is also likely to suffer the emotional effects of it. Anxiety and depression are very common. They are typically prone to isolation and may have trouble conversing in social settings. If they remember the event, they may often have flashbacks. These make them feel as though the event is happening all over again.

Trauma as a Co-Occurring Disorder

Co-occurring disorders are typical among people who suffer from addictions. This is because addiction always has a cause. Quite often, that cause is a specific mental health condition. The term “co-occurring” simply means that the two conditions are happening at the same time.

Trauma is frequently diagnosed as a co-occurring disorder. This could mean one of three things for the individual. It could mean that they:

  1. Suffered from the trauma and then turned to addiction as a way to cope.
  2. Had the addiction and then experienced the traumatic event.
  3. Began using substances at the same time as the trauma occurred.

As you can probably guess, the first scenario is the most likely in most cases. However, the other two do occur as well.

There is a good reason why addiction and trauma are connected to one another. Many times, people don’t realize that they have a trauma diagnosis. This could be because they don’t remember the event that occurred. Or, they may remember, but they might not realize how it has affected their lives. 

Trauma causes a lot of pain in those who suffer from it. Not only could they be suffering from physical pain, but the emotional pain can be crippling. They may get therapy, but if they don’t remember the event, that pain cannot be treated properly. Sadly, this is the case for so many people in this situation.

For many of these individuals, drugs or alcohol seem to be a welcome escape from their problems. Alcohol has the ability to calm anxiety significantly, at least for a little while. If they feel depressed, a drug like cocaine or Adderall may help them to feel better. This is essentially a form of self-medication, and it happens all the time.

Eventually, the substances don’t work as well as they once should. This could be because of the natural progression of addiction. Or, it could be because the person has formed a tolerance. Either way, they’ll use more in order to get the same effects. Continuing to use will ultimately result in the return of symptoms. It is a vicious cycle that is very hard to escape from.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment and How it Can Help

The reason dual diagnosis treatment works so well is because it addresses both conditions simultaneously. Keep in mind that this was not always the way either condition was treated. Several years ago, they were always treated separately. The patient would be put through a period of detox, and then the mental health condition was treated. It’s not surprising that this method resulted in many relapses.

In order for any type of addiction to be treated successfully, the root cause must be discovered. This can be challenging for someone who might not be able to remember a traumatic event. However, therapies exist (such as EMDR) that can make it possible. When the right type of therapy is used, trauma can be treated and the individual can recover.

Help Finding Treatment for Addiction and Trauma

In looking over this information, maybe you’ve had some revelations about yourself. You know that your addiction is a problem. However, maybe you’ve struggled with figuring out why. It’s possible that you have suffered through a trauma, and because of that, you’re self-medicating it. Here at Northpoint Recovery, we want you to know we understand. What you’re facing is painful, and we’re here to help you.

There’s no need for you to continue suffering. If you keep using drugs or alcohol, your condition is only going to get worse. We can provide you with the type of treatment that will address both of your conditions at the same time. With our help, you can recover.

Do you need to learn more about trauma and addiction? Do you want to find out how you can get help right away? Please contact us.

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