Experiencing trauma does not mean a person will develop an addiction, but studies suggest those who have suffered trauma are more at risk. Trauma does not have to be a catastrophic life-altering event to have a substantial impact on someone. While trauma may involve experiencing physical harm, it is more often linked to the emotional response of a person following an event.
How Can PTSD and Trauma Contribute to Addiction & Mental Health?
Trauma can be experienced as a result of numerous events—accidents, natural disasters, rape, the loss of a loved one, and physical or mental abuse are all common catalysts for addiction. While the impact of these events may range in severity for different people, they all have the potential to cause psychological trauma. But this does not look the same for everyone, as individual differences can cause people to cope with these events differently. In many cases, unresolved trauma is the root cause of addiction. It is often the foundation of many mental health disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. Mental health disorders often play a major role in the development and progression of addiction, making dual-diagnosis treatment critical to success in recovery. Dual-diagnosis treatment centers address PTSD, trauma, anxiety and other mental health disorders and addiction and substance abuse simultaneously giving those in recovery the best chance at success.
The Link Between Trauma and Addiction
There is not always a clear, defined traumatic event that can be identified as the catalyst. Everyone experiences varying degrees of trauma in life although it may not always be apparent. Any situation that causes a person to feel overwhelmed, isolated, or powerless can be a traumatic event. Those who experience trauma may seek an escape from the associated feelings. Drugs and alcohol often provide that respite for numerous reasons:
- Escaping your mind: After experiencing trauma, your mind can sometimes feel like a jail cell. Drugs or alcohol can provide an escape and allow a person to disassociate from the thoughts or feelings that may weigh them down.
- Silencing recurring thoughts or memories: Trauma can leave a person with unwanted thoughts or memories. Substance abuse can suppress the incessant noise and help to keep one’s mind from wandering.
- Reducing discomfort: Substance abuse can numb the mind as well as the body. Drugs and alcohol can release endorphins and change one’s mood, allowing a person to disconnect from what they are feeling. Drugs or alcohol can help the world feel more manageable.
- Redefining your identity: Trauma can make you feel like you do not know yourself. It can make a person feel disconnected from their core, and substance abuse is often substituted as a way to create connections. It can make a person feel differently about themselves and their situation, which can be incredibly appealing.
Healing from PTSD & Trauma in Addiction Treatment
During addiction treatment, it is important to address the addiction itself as well as the underlying causes that influenced its development. Many treatment programs incorporate various forms of therapy to address the unique needs of clients. It is important for clients to understand the role trauma plays in addiction, and how best to treat both conditions. Rather than seeking safety from trauma by using mind-altering substances, therapy can help clients overcome trauma in a positive way.
Clients are often unaware of the way in which trauma affects the development of addiction. As long as trauma remains unaddressed, many fall into the vicious cycle of abuse and relapse. One way this is identified in addiction recovery is through an initial assessment designed to identify the unique needs of the individual. Substance abuse and mental health disorders often exacerbate one another, making it difficult for someone to develop healthy coping mechanisms and relationships.
Dual-diagnosis treatment often incorporates trauma therapy to address this important factor in successful recovery. This focus provides clients with individual and group therapy sessions designed to address their unique needs. During these sessions they are able to explore the nature of their addiction and its impact on various aspects of life. Individualized therapy allows clients to explore their own unique needs, while group therapy encourages participants to examine common experiences and understand how they relate to others. These therapies provide clients with numerous opportunities to develop the life skills necessary to support successful sobriety.
Healing from trauma is a process, and while not everyone will fully recover from its effects, they can learn how to manage symptoms and reduce its impact on their daily lives. By helping clients identify the true intention behind substance use, they can begin to identify their needs and work towards developing alternative healthy coping mechanisms rather than relying on substances to escape it.