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Exploring the Relationship Between Addiction and Trauma

Trauma and Addiction

When we hear the word “trauma,” many of us think of a soldier returning from combat duty and suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But trauma doesn’t only come from experiences in military service. Trauma can come from myriad events, including being the victim of, or witness to, violent crime; experiencing physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; developing a serious illness or chronic health condition; sustaining a serious injury; being in a car accident, or losing a loved one. In addition, a person doesn’t have to meet all the clinical criteria of PTSD to be suffering from trauma.

In thinking about trauma, it’s important to understand that everyone has a unique experience with trauma–what causes PTSD in one person may barely cause a reaction in another. For example, two women are in car accidents. Both sustain non-life-threatening injuries, and the cars are totaled. The first woman recovers from her injuries, gets another car, and goes on with her life. The second woman recovers from her physical injuries, gets another car, but develops PTSD. Every time she gets behind the wheel of a car, she experiences debilitating panic attacks. It is three years before she can confidently drive. This example serves as a reminder that every person is unique and experiences life’s events differently. Trauma is trauma, no matter how big or small the originating event may seem to others. If people are made to feel like they are “overreacting,” or that they need to “just get over it,” they may feel ashamed and may not seek out the psychological help that they need.

What Are The Symptoms of PTSD?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), outlines the types of symptoms that a person suffering from PTSD may exhibit. As explained by staff at Enlightened Solutions, these symptoms are grouped into four categories:

  • Intrusive symptoms–including flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, bodily sensations;
  • Avoidance symptoms–attempts to avoid thoughts, conversations, people, places, sounds, situations, or images that remind the person with PTSD of the trauma;
  • Negative cognition or mood symptoms–depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, shame, blame, anger, horror, negative thoughts, dissociative symptoms, fuzzy memory of the events, lack of positive emotions; and
  • Altered reactions–irritability, hypervigilance (always feeling “on edge”), aggressive behavior, self-destructive behavior, difficulty with interpersonal relationships, poor concentration, poor sleep.

Addiction–A Symptom of Trauma?

Trauma frequently leads to alcohol or drug addiction. Many mental health care professionals have indicated that trauma can be an indicator of addiction. In a report published by the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS), 75% of people who have experienced abuse or violence report that they have issues with alcohol abuse. Thirty-three percent of people studied who reported symptoms associated with trauma as a result of an accident, illness, or disaster indicate that they have problems with alcohol. Nearly 80% of veterans who served in the Vietnam War who are treated for PTSD also have alcohol use disorder. Women who have experienced trauma-inducing life events have a greater chance of developing alcohol use disorder than women who have not experienced traumatic events. Adolescents who have been sexually assaulted are four times more likely to abuse alcohol than their peers, more than four times more likely to abuse marijuana, and nine times more likely to abuse other drugs.

Treatments for Trauma

If a person is in treatment for substance use disorder, any underlying trauma must be considered and addressed in order for the person to fully recover. If trauma is not addressed, the person is particularly vulnerable to relapse. According to information published on the Mayo Clinic’s website, part of the treatment for trauma is psychotherapy, also referred to as talk therapy and can include cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Cognitive therapy is used to help patients recognize the ways of thinking, or cognitive patterns, that are keeping them rooted in the trauma. In exposure therapy, patients are exposed to the situations or memories that they find frightening in a safe manner, sometimes using virtual reality programs. EMDR combines exposure therapy with guided eye movements to help patients process traumatic events.

Alternative or complementary therapies can be especially helpful in treatment for people who have experienced trauma, particularly modalities that involve the body as well as the mind. It is said that the body can store memories much like the brain does, but without the context that the brain provides. Treatment that uses the body in some way, like equine therapy, acupuncture, or yoga and meditation, can help to access memories that may be deeply buried and can help people to integrate their minds and bodies.

At Enlightened Solutions, we understand that unprocessed trauma may be at the root of substance use disorder for our patients and we work with them to address trauma, as well as mental health issues that may underlie their addictive behaviors. Enlightened Solutions offers healing for the whole patient, not just their addiction. We develop a treatment program for each patient based on their needs as well as their goals for therapy. Our program is rooted in the 12-Step philosophy and combines traditional talk therapy with a range of holistic treatment modalities. Alternative therapies that we offer include family constellation therapy, acupuncture and chiropractic treatment, yoga and meditation, sound healing, art therapy, music therapy, equine therapy, and horticultural therapy. We are located on the southern shore of New Jersey. If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol and seeking compassionate healing in a soothing environment, call us at (833) 801-5483.