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Does Trauma Cause Addiction?

An individual who has experienced a traumatic event may face emotional and mental issues afterward. They may have difficulty expressing their fears or anxiety related to the event. Extended negative circumstances can also create a sense of trauma within an individual. People who have experienced trauma may turn to drugs or alcohol as a sort of outlet for their emotional pain. Does trauma cause addiction? There are definitely links between the two in many cases.

A Strong Link

Research shows a strong link between traumatic experiences and substance use problems. Many people who have experienced traumatic events or circumstances such as child abuse, criminal attack, disasters, or war, turn to alcohol or drugs to help them deal with their emotional pain, bad memories, poor sleep, guilt, shame, anxiety, or terror. It has also been found that people with alcohol or drug use problems are more likely to experience traumatic events than those without these problems.

Vicious Cycle

Many people who have experienced traumatic events find themselves in a vicious cycle in which they find that they increase their alcohol and drug use, which produces new traumatic event experiences, which leads to even worse substance use, and so on. Just as traumatic events and substance use often occur together, so do trauma-related disorders and substance use disorders.

For example, trauma-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, occur frequently among people with substance use disorders and vice versa. Not only do trauma related and substance use disorders cause devastation to the affected individual, but they also often create major problems for relationships with family members and friends.

PTSD and Addiction

People who have experienced trauma are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol before and after being diagnosed with PTSD. The International Society for Traumatic Stress Stud (ISTSS) cites the following alcohol-related statistics, in particular:

  • One-quarter to three-quarters of people who have survived abusive or violent traumatic experiences report problematic alcohol use
  • One-tenth to one-third of people who survive accident-, illness-, or disaster related trauma report problematic alcohol use, especially if troubled by persistent health problems or pain
  • Up to 80% of Vietnam veterans seeking PTSD treatment have alcohol use disorders
  • Veterans over the age of 65 with PTSD are at increased risk for attempted suicide if they experience problematic alcohol use or depression
  • Women exposed to traumatic life events show an increased risk for an alcohol use disorder
  • Men and women reporting sexual abuse have higher rates of alcohol and drug use disorders than other men and women.
  • Compared to adolescents who have not been sexually assaulted, adolescent sexual assault victims are 4.5 times more likely to experience alcohol abuse or dependence, 4 times more likely to experience marijuana abuse or dependence, and 9 times more likely to experience hard drug abuse or dependence.
  • Adolescents with PTSD are 4 times more likely than adolescents without PTSD to experience alcohol abuse or dependence, 6 times more likely to experience marijuana abuse or dependence, and 9 times more likely to experience hard drug abuse or dependence.

Temporary Relief

The use of alcohol or drugs can provide a temporary distraction and relief for traumatized people who may be suffering from very serious and even debilitating problems with their thoughts, feelings, physical health, relationship to self and others, and behavior. However, this relief is only temporary, and the use of substances to reduce symptoms ultimately can be extremely harmful.

So, can trauma cause addiction? When an individual who has been traumatized uses drugs or binge drinks, it may be well-intentioned in the beginning, but it is ultimately self-destructive and can lead to addiction. Using these substances to deal with the effects of the trauma may help with the symptoms of the trauma itself but eventually creates worse symptoms.  

Treatment for Trauma and Addiction

When a person has experienced trauma and finds they are now addicted to drugs or alcohol, addressing trauma in treatment is critical to their total recovery. Effective substance abuse treatment services for people who are dealing with trauma will integrate an understanding of trauma and substance abuse throughout the program.

The best approach is to address the underlying causes and issues of the trauma and the substance abuse simultaneously. Helping the individual understand the range of possible connections between trauma and substance abuse is a key process in effective treatment services for both. Personalized treatment must take into consideration each person’s history of substance use as well as the traumatic event or circumstances that may have led to addiction.

Makana Path Can Help You with Trauma and Addiction

At Makana Path, we understand the links between trauma and addiction. We are focused on intensive healing that will help you safely reprocess your trauma and regain control over your life through insightful treatment. We also understand the challenges of staying at home and social distancing during COVID-19 and remain open to provide the help you need during these challenging times. To learn more about our Specialized Treatment for Trauma, contact Makana Path today by calling 1-866-313-0978.