Trauma and Addiction

Psychological trauma occurs when a person experiences a particular stressful event or situation in their lifetime. Sometimes, these individuals find themselves unable to cope with the feelings associated with trauma. This is why there is such a connection between trauma and substance addiction, as people turn to substances to numb these feelings.

What is Trauma?

It is critical to note that trauma can affect anyone no matter what age, gender, race, background or any other factors. A traumatic event can leave anyone with long-lasting consequences such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.

Trauma comes in many different forms. It could be one major life-changing event or an experience stretched out over many years. Anything that overwhelms an individual’s level of ability to cope with stress can be qualified as trauma. While there is no set standard of what qualifies as a traumatic event, it is almost always involves some sort of violation. This can be a physical violation or a violation of how an individual views the world. Psychological trauma damages an individual’s psyche and results in several cognitive, psychological, behavioral, and physical effects.

Identifying Trauma

A significant symptom of emotional trauma is the re-experiencing of the traumatic event or events. Several factors can trigger these situations, such as returning to a familiar place, a certain feeling, or seeing an individual involved. These triggers have the ability to cause unpleasant “flashbacks” and persistent feelings of nervousness. Not only that, but reoccurring nightmares, panic attacks and dissociative episodes are common trauma symptoms.

Even though an individual may be aware of these triggers, it is impossible to avoid all possibility of encountering them. Because of these possibilities, individuals may experience paranoia, irritability and agitation. The traumatic memories are a major obstacle in everyday life for someone struggling with PTSD. Different people deal with psychological trauma in different ways, but the most effective method for recovery is a trauma recovery program.

Psychological trauma presents itself in many different ways. The strong emotional and physical reactions to trauma can last days or weeks, depending on the individual. For some, the feelings may grow more severe and last much longer. This is why it is so critical to recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma, including:

  • Reoccurring thoughts and flashbacks
  • Loss of concentration abilities
  • Feelings of confusion and disorientation
  • Nightmares
  • Insomnia
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of interest in previous activities
  • Easily frightened
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Physical aches and pains throughout the body
  • Guilt and shame
  • Anxiety and depression

Trauma and the Brain

Psychological trauma affects the brain in a variety of ways, including:

  • The brain’s threat detection center, the amygdala. This is the part of the brain that becomes overactive and causes an individual to be constantly on the search for potential triggers or threats. This causes feelings of paranoia, anxiety, vulnerability, and fear.
  • The cortex, which is the center control of the brain function including thoughts and actions. The cortex is impacted by survival instincts caused by the trauma. Instead of thinking or acting normally, the survival instincts overcome and diminish rational thinking.
  • The hippocampus, which is the brains section for processing memories. Trauma impacts the hippocampus by improperly storing traumatic memories. Instead of storing memories normally, traumatic memories continue to be present continuously. This results in uncomfortable, disturbing and unpleasant recollections.

Trauma and Addiction

Because emotional trauma impacts the brain, the uncomfortable symptoms and side effects can be overwhelming. This is why so many trauma survivors turn to substances like drugs or alcohol to self-medicate. In an effort to escape the feeling associated with traumatic events, an individual may find themselves battling addiction.

Addiction temporary reduces the unpleasant feelings of trauma symptoms. People dealing with trauma often turn to substances to make them feel calm, comfortable, or even numb. They may rely on substances to give them normal feelings through life- such as stimulants for energy, opioids for happiness, and alcohol for confidence. Every patient deals with trauma differently and has individual needs to be addressed. Those suffering from both trauma and addiction are classified as having a co-occurring disorder.

Treatment Options for Trauma

Although it can leave an individual feeling hopeless, it is possible for those suffering from trauma and addiction to make a full recovery. It is critical to recognize any co-occurring disorders of trauma and addiction in order to fully treat and recover. Often times, there is a feeling of guilt and shame associated in addiction with trauma. It is critical to pinpoint the cause of each individual disorder in order to make a full and complete recovery.

Co-occurring disorders can be challenging, but with individualized treatment care programs, there is hope. By identifying the issue and treating the psychological trauma, a new path to wellness is created. In the care of a trauma and addiction treatment program, individuals have a chance for a healthier life, both physically and emotionally.


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Table of Contents

  1. What is Trauma?
  2. Identifying Trauma
  3. Trauma and the Brain
  4. Trauma and Addiction
  5. Treatment Options

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