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The Link Between Trauma and Addiction

by: Dr. Howard C. Samuels
Trauma and Addiction

Addiction is a complex mental health disorder that almost always stems from underlying psychological or emotional concerns. One of the most common struggles that co-occurs with addiction is trauma. Although your traumatic experiences may only be temporary life events, trauma can leave lasting wounds that continue to affect your emotions and behavior.

Whenever addiction develops as a result of another mental health issue, it is absolutely critical to treat the underlying condition alongside the addiction. Without addressing your trauma, you may struggle greatly to break free from your substance use.

What Is Trauma?

Trauma is an event or a situation that poses a threat to your well-being. Some forms of trauma are immediate and short-term situations, such as an assault or a car accident, and others are longer-lasting circumstances, such as childhood neglect or living through a war. Any situation that causes severe distress or makes you fear for your safety can be traumatic and can affect your psychological state of being.

Most people experience at least one trauma over the course of their lives, but not everyone goes on to struggle with lasting psychological effects. There are a number of reasons why certain people may be more or less resilient to trauma than others. However, those who are most affected by their trauma may feel like they’re constantly reliving the event or existing in an endless state of fear or anxiety.

The following are some of the most common signs that you’re struggling to cope with trauma:

  • You go out of your way to avoid anything that reminds you of your trauma.
  • You experience flashbacks, nightmares, or unwanted memories of your trauma.
  • Your mood has changed or you experience sudden and erratic mood swings.
  • You often feel nervous, jumpy, or on-edge.
  • You engage in self-destructive behaviors, like reckless driving or substance abuse.

How Trauma Leads to Addiction

Coping with trauma can be incredibly difficult, and people often turn to drugs or alcohol to hide from their pain. Substances can provide a temporary escape from harmful memories or from symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other emotional disorders. While therapy and other long-term treatments can help you fully heal and overcome your trauma, substances may provide more immediate relief, which can be very alluring to someone who feels completely overwhelmed by their traumatic experiences.

However, the comfort that drugs or alcohol may provide is fleeting. This can leave you chasing the feeling and using your drug of choice more frequently and in larger doses. As your addiction develops, it starts to feel impossible to face your life without the help of substances. Your brain has adjusted to the effects of the drugs, so quitting can lead to serious emotional and physical withdrawal symptoms.

Childhood Trauma and Addiction

The link between trauma and addiction is especially strong among people who experienced childhood trauma. Childhood abuse and neglect can affect the way your brain develops as you age, which might make you more vulnerable to addiction. If your drug or alcohol use begins during adolescence, you may also have a higher risk of addiction and substance use disorders.

Childhood trauma can be such a devastating and life-altering experience because it occurs as you’re forming your understanding of the world. Witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event can disrupt your overall sense of safety and security, which can make it very difficult to relate to the world in a positive way.

Dual Diagnosis

Many people with addiction have dual diagnosis, which is a mental health disorder that occurs alongside the addiction. A large percentage of people with an addiction are also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and seeking treatment for both diagnoses is essential for a successful recovery.

In some cases, people with PTSD and a history of traumatic experiences don’t realize that they’re struggling with their trauma until they seek help for their addiction. You might feel subconsciously drawn to drugs or alcohol without realizing why they’re so appealing to you. If your addiction has been your escape for a long time, the recovery process may bring up memories or feelings about your traumatic experiences that you’ve never confronted before.

Treatment for Trauma and Addiction

Because trauma and addiction are so closely linked, it’s virtually impossible to address one without the other. Your trauma may be the driving factor behind your addiction, and your addiction may prevent you from working through your trauma. In this case, a dual diagnosis program that includes both trauma and substance abuse treatment is necessary for true healing.

The following are the most common treatment options for trauma and addiction recovery:

Medically Supervised Detox

If you’re physically dependent on a substance, quitting on your own could lead to dangerous or even life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Your first step toward recovery may be to attend a detox program so that you can safely withdraw from drugs or alcohol. During this program, you’ll be supervised by healthcare professionals to ensure your safety, and you may be given medications that help to ease the withdrawal.

Inpatient Mental Health Treatment

An inpatient treatment program can be a valuable experience for individuals with trauma and addiction. During your inpatient treatment, you attend a wide variety of therapies while remaining in a safe and stable environment. This level of support is often needed for the first days or weeks of addiction recovery as the early stages of treatment can be very challenging.

Outpatient Therapy

Outpatient therapy is an excellent source of ongoing support when recovering from trauma and addiction. Your therapist can help you process your trauma and understand how it contributed to your addiction, and they can work with you to build up your coping skills so that you no longer feel like you need substances to escape from your life.

Trauma and addiction recovery takes time, but you deserve total health and happiness. Dr. Howard Samuels provides therapy for individuals facing addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. Contact us today to speak with an addiction therapist in Los Angeles.

Contact Dr. Howard Samuels Today

May 9, 2022
Addiction Treatment

Dr. Howard C. Samuels works directly one on one with his clients who come to him struggling with addiction. Dr. Samuels has extensive experience in treating addiction having directed some of the nations top programs to working with celebrities and appearing on national media to provide expert advice. Don’t miss the chance to work with the leading expert in addiction treatment.

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