• Nicole Arzt

What's the Real Relationship Between Addiction and Trauma?




If you struggle with addiction, you probably have a history of trauma. The two variables are so profoundly intertwined that research shows that nearly 60% of people with PTSD also have substance abuse problems.


The two phenomenons go hand-in-hand. Trauma can trigger substance use, and substance use can trigger trauma, and the horrible cycle can persist for many years.


If you're struggling with both issues, it's imperative that you receive comprehensive treatment. Let's get into what you need to know.


Understanding The Effect of Trauma on The Brain

The human brain is the powerhouse of the body, and it undergoes massive changes in function and structure starting from in utero and lasting until later life. These changes are a normal part of the human experience. But trauma can interrupt these processes profoundly.


When the brain perceives a threat, the amygdala triggers the "fight or flight" response. This refers to the surge of adrenaline, glucose, and norepinephrine flooding the brain and body. This response is essential to our survival.


However, if you experience traumatic stress, your brain may activate this response much too intensely. This disproportionate reaction can lead to people feeling perpetually anxious, depressed, or even numb. The thought of relaxation may seem utterly imposible.


How Trauma Can Lead to Self-Medicating

We know that trauma can result in many difficult, unwanted symptoms. For instance, you may struggle with intense anger, hypervigilance, or sadness. You may experience excess guilt over what happened, or you might find yourself obsessing on how you could have done things differently.


At first, these symptoms are normal. Almost everyone experiences them to some extent. Unfortunately, sometimes they persist for several months or years.


Drugs and alcohol may offer some temporary relief in reducing the symptom intensity. You may be tempted to continue using just to avoid the painful feelings. Engaging in this pattern persistently is known as self-medicating.


With time, people become dependent on these substances to feel any semblance of normal. You eventually need them to just get through the day. Even if you do feel some relief, it's short-lived.


Addiction can progress at different speeds- sometimes,, it's very rapid, and other times, it's much slower.

As a result, you may not even understand that you're struggling with a substance use problem until it becomes seemingly undeniable. However, at that point, you may be abusing alcohol or drugs so frequently that you don't know how to stop.


How Addiction Can Perpetuate Trauma

Addiction itself can trigger trauma. As most people know, addiction is full of impulsive and dangerous decisions. People often sacrifice their family, health, and financial well-being for their drug of choice. These decisions impact everyone around them, and the results can be devastating.


Addiction can perpetuate trauma in the following ways:

  • experiencing homelessness

  • overdosing or witnessing someone else overdosing

  • violence and life-threatening situations

  • financial despair

  • relationship problems and divorce

  • medical complications due to substance use

The longer you struggle with your addiction, the more likely you are to experience traumatic distress. However, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You may keep drinking or using drugs to avoid dealing with the stress. But that cycle then perpetuates more problems.


What Does Comprehensive Treatment Mean?

If you're getting help for your addiction, it's not enough to focus on stopping drug or alcohol use. Without understanding the underlying reasons related to why you keep using, it's almost impossible to establish a sustainable recovery. Moreover, if you don't actively work on those underlying reasons, you risk struggling with enormous distress or relapsing altogether.


Comprehensive treatment means working on all the issues simultaneously. You're working on your addiction while you're also working on your trauma and other mental health issues. They are targeted together, because professionals know that they reinforce one another.


Comprehensive treatment may entail various elements, such as:

  • individual therapy

  • trauma-focused therapy like EMDR

  • group therapy

  • peer-focused support

  • holistic treatment

  • psychiatric medication

Keep in mind that there isn't a perfect treatment for addiction and trauma. You may need to try several different methods to find the strategy that works best for you. Your treatment team will collaborate with you and support you during this process.


Comprehensive treatment requires a commitment and discipline. You may need to confront some difficult emotions, and that can be painful. However, most people find that the work is worth it. In healing from trauma and addiciton, you can learn how to live a happier and more fulfilling life.


Why We Prioritize Treating Addiction and Trauma Together

Both addiction and trauma are devastating realities in modern society. They are both largely misunderstood, and many times, people don't realize the need for professional support.


At The Resurface Group, we believe in providing customized treatment tailored to each individual client's needs. Our approach is mulifaceted, evidence-based, and rooted in compassion. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you.

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Orange County Addiction Recovery • 2900 Bristol St Suite 320, Costa Mesa, CA 92626 • Main (509) 319-0845

© 2020 by The Resurface Group LLC

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