When people struggle with addiction, there can be many different causes that lead them to continual substance abuse. Genetic factors are often a major issue with addiction, but the environment that a person grows up in and major events in their life can also play a role. Psychological trauma is one of the most common problems that is connected to someone developing issues with addiction.
Stressful and emotional events can have a long-term impact on a person’s mental health and behavior. When a person goes through a traumatic experience they are forever changed by it and may have trouble resolving some of the problems that it causes. People may begin to abuse alcohol or drugs because they do not know how to cope with their past trauma.
Trauma can occur in different levels of severity and each individual will react in a specific way depending on their experiences. People with PTSD tend to have more severe symptoms that they may try to escape through substance abuse especially if they have not received professional treatment. The combination of PTSD and addiction is a type of co-occurring disorder that must be treated through special programs designed to cater toward both issues.
The Impact of Trauma
Whether someone experiences trauma in childhood or later on in life it is likely to have a strong impact on them mentally and emotionally. Traumatic events can encompass many different things including issues like physical or emotional abuse, witnessing or being involved in violence, the sudden death of a loved one, experiencing a natural disaster, having a serious injury or life-threatening illness and being involved in war. Trauma usually involves intense stress, fear for their safety or survival and experiencing something that shocks their system.
If a person grows up in a stable family they may be able to survive a trauma without developing PTSD. However, it depends on the individual experience and how they personally react to a stressful event. Trauma can lead to different symptoms and not everyone will be inclined to turn to alcohol or drugs to cope but some may be more vulnerable to addiction because of genetics or other factors.
Trauma leads to symptoms such as anxiety, depression, anger, nightmares, panic attacks, avoidance of certain situations or people, and other issues. When these symptoms make it hard to function in their daily life they may eventually be diagnosed with PTSD. Symptoms of trauma can continue even years after the event has taken place if the issues are not resolved through professional treatment.
Substance Abuse and Trauma
The feelings that a person experiences following a trauma can be very hard to deal with on a daily basis. The emotional state that a traumatized person is in can make them feel tense, afraid, anxious or unable to face normal interactions. Some may turn to alcohol or drugs to ease their anxiety and temporarily relieve some of their symptoms.
Some substances can make people suffering from trauma feel more calm, numb, empowered, joyful or energetic depending on their particular issues and the drug that they use for their symptoms. The problem is that drugs like opioids, alcohol, stimulants or other sedatives can only provide temporary relief and do nothing to resolve the underlying issues that cause their trauma symptoms. Over time, drug use tends to create more problems and worse symptoms of PTSD so that the individual is in an even worse situation.
Many studies have confirmed that people who have experienced trauma are more susceptible to developing a drug addiction. They may not understand the reactions they are having to the trauma or how to deal with it. They may fail to get professional help and are simply trying to find a way to live with their emotional problems that are interfering with their life.
Treating Both Addiction and Trauma
Those who have been through a traumatic experience and start to cope with it through drug abuse will need to treat both issues if they are hoping to recover. A person cannot recover from trauma with a drug addiction and vice versa as the two problems tend to influence and exacerbate the other. The first step in recovery is to work on becoming abstinent from any drug use so that the individual can address their trauma and addictive behavior in therapy.
One of the most crucial aspects of treatment for a co-occurring disorder like trauma and addiction, is for the patient to learn new coping mechanisms so that they can handle their symptoms. If they are able to find healthier ways to deal with anxiety, depression or daily stress then they will be less likely to turn to drugs to resolve their issues. Discussing the trauma and getting a new perspective on it with the help of a therapist can also help relieve symptoms and make daily life easier.