When a person has witnessed a violent or tragic event, experienced intense pain, or fears for his/her safety, that person can be described as having experienced trauma. The resiliency level of each person is different, which means reactions to traumatic events vary as well.
Adults have the capability of managing traumatic events more effectively than children, so as much as these experiences cause trauma in all ages, it can have a defining and last effect on children, something that they might bring with them into adulthood.
Trauma can be ongoing or is repeated, such as that of military combat or child abuse. A person can also experience trauma if he has gone through a life-threatening situation or natural disaster, grew up in an unstable home, a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault, street violence, has been bullied constantly and repeatedly, or if he/she has seen a car accident or is a victim of one.
Unfortunately, not all cases of trauma are resolved. This can result in long term issues like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD can disrupt the lives of people who have not resolved the feelings associated with trauma, which can negatively affect their behavior, thinking, physical health, emotions, and relationships. Sufferers of PTSD may develop depression and anxiety, experience nightmares, and sleep disturbances, have flashbacks and tend to isolate themselves. When they feel dissociative, their grasp of reality is blurred and this can lead to impulsiveness, self-harm, excessive fears, and a predisposition to addiction.
Understanding the Link Between Trauma and Addiction
Through the years, scientists and researchers have studied the link between trauma and addiction. The goal is to primarily understand why so many alcohol and drug abusers have experienced trauma early on.
A study conducted in the Kaiser Permanente’s Adverse Childhood Experiences involving 17,000 patients indicated that a child who has gone through four or more traumatic experiences in life are 46 times more likely to use injection drugs, 60% more likely to become obese and five times more likely to develop alcoholism.
Other studies have also concluded that there is a connection between addiction and trauma. Additionally, studies by the Veterans Administration have found that up to 75% of war veterans with PTSD have turned to alcohol and drugs.
As for the reasons behind this occurrence, researches say that there are several complex combinations of factors. Perhaps the simplest explanation is that people who have a hard time managing the effects of trauma turn to alcohol and drugs in order to cope or self-medicate.
Symptoms of PTSD such as insomnia, social withdrawal, depression, hypersensitivity to sudden movements or loud noises, and agitation may seem easier to manage by administering drugs. However, what they don’t realize is that addiction only adds to the problem that will need another method of treatment. This is not a cure.
Another reason for this connection is the tendency of most substance abusers to develop a lifestyle that puts him or her in danger more than that of a person who has no addiction problems. Unpleasant events, dangerous neighborhoods, and similar unsavory situations may indeed put addicted individuals into circumstances that they can be traumatized such as abuse, violence, accidents, and crime.
Other research concluded that there may be a genetic component to this occurrence. Some people are more prone to PTSD and have a tendency to develop addictive qualities. However, further studies are yet to be performed.
Dealing with the Addiction Caused by Trauma
Long-term use of drugs and alcohol may cause some users to temporarily “forget” the trauma, so what happens is that it appears addiction and abuse may be the only problem. Some people end up ignoring or suppressing the memory of a traumatic event by keeping themselves busy at work, only to find it on the end that the way they dealt with the problem only replaced drugs and alcohol by something that’s not any better. Some examples are sexual promiscuity, gambling, overeating, and other compulsive behavior. But if a person chooses to ignore or avoid addressing the problem with a proper solution, his or her suffering will only continue.
However, we have to acknowledge that dealing with traumatic experiences is not easy. With alcohol and drugs in tow, overcoming this challenge is nearly impossible. It is for this reason that therapists address recovery from addiction first. Only when the victim is clear-minded and stronger will a therapist work in counseling the patient regarding unresolved trauma.
There are many different kinds of modalities of treatment given to people suffering from the long term effects of trauma. This includes body psychotherapy, PTSD intervention, and trauma-focused therapies.
The Path to Recovery
With about two-thirds of all addicts having previously experienced trauma, it’s crucial that we understand how trauma can make a person more vulnerable to addiction. Identifying persons who have experienced any form of trauma is immediately more prone to addiction regardless of any indicators. This allows for more preventive measures to be developed and applied as early as possible.
Having this knowledge will also allow for more tailored treatments, making them more effective and specific for people who have experienced trauma. Treatments can start by offering support groups for victims and by making sure that each individual receives proper counseling so they can come to terms with their past.
Alcohol and drugs may seem like a solution to the pain of the past, but substance abuse can only do more hard both in the present time and in the future. If a person has become fully dependent on drugs, alcohol, and any harmful behavior, it’s important that a solution is sought out immediately. It’s also not unlikely that the dangers of addictive behavior can lead to other traumatic experiences.
A person’s reaction to a traumatic event is individualized and depends on the support system and environment at the time of the trauma, as well as the people he/she chooses to associate. For a lot of people, identifying the why, where, and when the addiction started is the start of the road to recovery. Further, a person should also learn to accept his condition and acknowledge the situation he/she is in, as the only thing that can provide healing is providing treatment at its root.
If you or someone you love is suffering from addiction and co-occurring disorders, contact us today for information on how to get help.