A Path to Healing: Understanding the Role of Trauma in Addiction

A woman suffers from stress. Traumatic experience leads to personality disorder. Mental trauma in everyday life. Type of personality.

Unresolved trauma and addiction often go hand-in-hand. Trauma and it’s related mental health conditions can be a important contributing factor in setting an individual down the path of addiction.

According to Time magazine, many people currently fighting addiction have experienced trauma in the past. Likewise, many people with addictions are also suffering from PTSD.

To understand why trauma plays a role in addiction, it is helpful to understand what trauma is and its impact.

What is the Link Between Trauma and Addiction?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) describes trauma as stemming from event(s) or circumstances experienced by individuals that are not only physically and emotionally harmful but leave lasting effects on that person’s spiritual, mental, social and emotional well-being.

A traumatizing event can be a divorce, childhood sexual or physical abuse, bullying, or the death of a loved one.

Trauma does not discriminate based on age, race, socioeconomic status, or gender. What it does is create a significant change in a person, even extending into how the brain functions.

The lasting impact of trauma can manifest as dangerous patterns that lead into repeated self-defeating behaviors.

There are many theories on why substance abuse and trauma are linked. A major theory is that people who’ve experienced trauma attempt to use alcohol and drugs to self-medicate and escape or dull the painful memories and symptoms (such as depression and anxiety) associated with PTSD.

This can also create a vicious cycle as substance abuse can set individuals up for future traumatic experiences.

Recovery Through Healing

To truly heal from addiction, you need to address the root causes of that addiction. When we can make those important connections between the traumatic events in our lives and addiction, it is then possible move on to individualized treatment as well as a plan for true recovery.

That can be achieved through therapy that specifically treats the aftereffects of trauma alongside addiction.

Instead of treating addiction as a separate entity (or trying to treat addiction through abstinence before dealing trauma), an integrated approach can help patients work through the various symptoms of PTSD and achieve a state of calm. Through this process, patients can begin retaking control.

With this approach, substance abuse becomes a symptom of past trauma and not the main problem.

By exploring past traumas, patients gain the help they need to tackle substance abuse head on, avoid relapsing and finally become sober.