The Connection Between Trauma and Addiction
A significant symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is to “self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.” Trauma, because it is stored in the body, gives rise to somatic disturbances and upsetting body sensations such as heart-pounding, queasiness, sweating, tightness of muscles and shortness of breath. The rise in disturbing body sensations can trigger the disturbing trauma imagery that is stored in the mind such as nightmares and flashbacks. (Van der Kolk 1994). This can become a vicious circle in which the body and mind play off of each other causing a negative synergy in which the disturbing imagery triggers disturbing body sensations and visa versa, putting trauma survivors into a black hole that they can have trouble finding their way out of.
Drugs and alcohol, for the trauma survivor, can provide a way to quiet the mind and the body that they can have control over; a sort of self-administered trauma treatment or medication. But sooner or later, these “medications” can morph into full-blown addictions whether the “medicator” is drugs, alcohol or prescription pills. As the body builds tolerance and both body and mind become addicted, greater amounts of the drug are needed to feel “okay.” Thus the addiction takes hold, the PTSD symptoms become worse, not better and lives become unmanageable for all concerned. This is how the wheel of trauma and addiction makes its sinister turn through yet another generation.
Trauma is something that, while unfortunate, many people can relate to. When something traumatic occurs, individuals can react in a number of different ways. Some might adopt avoidance techniques so they do not need to face the effects that the trauma has produced, while others simply cannot stop ruminating about their traumatic experience. There is no wrong way to react to trauma, however, continuing to live with the negative effects of it can be devastating and lead to even more trauma.
Within the United States, approximately 70 percent of adults have experienced one form of trauma within their lives. From that 70 percent, 20 percent end up developing posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. It is reported that over 13 million American adults are currently struggling with PTSD. And, according to the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH), 35 million children in the country have experienced one or more traumatic events. Many of these children will go on to grow into adults who may grapple with PTSD related to the traumatic situations they have endured as children.
There are several different types of trauma that are common throughout the majority of those struggling with posttraumatic stress disorder, including the following:
- Sexual assault (including rape)
- Sexual abuse
- Neglect as a child
- Physical abuse
- Domestic violence
- Psychological maltreatment
- Combat exposure
- School violence/bullying
- Medical trauma
- Unexpected loss
- Natural disasters
Even witnessing one of these common causes of trauma can lead to the development of a traumatic response.
Sadly, countless individuals have experienced at least one of these events, if not more. And, when trauma is experienced, an individual can quickly feel as though he or she is falling down the rabbit hole with no place to land.
Symptoms of Trauma
Some people who have experienced trauma might have a small period of time where they are sad, mad, or hurt, but in time, overcome those emotions. Others might find that they suffer from several different effects that continue to linger and become disruptive in their lives. That is because trauma can cause emotional, psychological, and physical symptoms that are challenging to cope with. These symptoms include, however, are not limited to, the following:
- Problems concentration
- Mood swings
- Guilt and shame
- Social isolation
- Feeling hopeless and disconnected
- Muscle tension
- Easily startled
- Racing heartbeat
Depending on the individual’s trauma and how he or she processes it, he or she may only experience a few of these symptoms, while someone else might experience many more. Either way, the best and most effective way to handle trauma is to seek trauma treatment in Los Angeles.
Trauma Treatment in Los Angeles
Trauma and its effects are usually touchy subjects and ones that those who are most affected typically do not want to discuss, as doing so can be painful. However, continuing to live with the impacts of trauma can cause more damage than possibly imagined. For example, countless individuals who struggle with trauma turn to alcohol and drugs to cope. Before they know it, they are still dealing with trauma, but also in the thick of a substance abuse problem. However, that does not need to happen. Trauma treatment in Los Angeles can help individuals manage their trauma in healthy ways.
The United States Department of Veterans Affairs reports that the trauma therapies with the “strongest evidence” for success include prolonged exposure (PE), cognitive processing therapy (CPT), and eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).
When someone experiences trauma, he or she might want to completely avoid talking or even thinking about that trauma. As a result, he or she avidly avoids it, however that does nothing but make the effects of that trauma fester and become more prominent. Prolonged exposure, or PE, is a type of trauma treatment in Los Angeles that helps individuals face their emotions as they surround their trauma and work through them with a therapist. The goal of PE is to minimize the symptoms of PTSD by finally addressing the effects of the trauma.
Cognitive processing therapy (CPT)
It is very common for a trauma survivor to internalize their trauma in ways that make them feel as though they are responsible for it. Consistent thoughts of guilt, shame, and fault can become overwhelming, however cognitive processing therapy, or CPT, can help.
CPT helps individuals manage these self-beliefs by comparing them against whether or not they are factual. For example, a sexual assault survivor might feel as though he or she gave the attacker the wrong message. But, when looking at the facts that someone behaved in a way that is unacceptable, the person can start to change that self-belief and adjust it to reflect the facts.
Eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
Many psychiatric professionals still do not know exactly how eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing works, however, it is one of the most revered trauma treatments today.
In an EMDR session, an individual will choose part of their trauma that is upsetting to them. He or she will be asked to think about that trauma while following an object, set of lights, or even the therapist’s finger. When done (usually within 30 seconds), the individual will speak to the client about his or her thoughts and start to talk through them and develop applicable coping skills to help decrease the presence of PTSD.
Each individual person who is dealing with PTSD and the effects of trauma will be examined to help determine which kind of trauma treatment in Los Angeles is best suited for his or her needs.
Do You Need Help?
Living with the damage that traumatic experiences have caused can be more than overwhelming. It can be so upsetting that your entire life and how you live it has been completely altered in a negative way. You do not need to let the effects of trauma invade the way in which you want to live your life.
Trauma treatment in Los Angeles can help you clear out the trauma so that you feel like the fog has finally been lifted. Do not wait. Call us right now. We can help.
Post Traumatic Stress Reaction
When we are traumatized, we may have one or more of the following responses: fight, flight or freeze. “In any life-threatening situation, a person will first be on high alert as the signs of potential danger are perceived. This is termed the “startle” (Simons, 1996) and is the familiar “deer in the headlights” reaction. Following that is the attempt to fight or flee. If escape is possible, the experience of the near-trauma will be upsetting and temporarily stressful but the person is unlikely to develop PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. If, however, one of these actions is not possible the person experiences a blocking of his or her escape. This results in the “thwarted intention.” This, in turn, gives rise to the “freeze.” (Grant 2003). When we freeze and cannot process what’s happening, we are at higher risk for developing symptoms of PTSD. When we’re triggered by a current life circumstance previous histories of traumatization can make us feel that we’re reliving a painful or frightening situation over and over again. “People with PTSD may organize their lives around dealing with the aftermath of trauma in one or both of two seemingly contradictory ways,” according to Bessel van der Kolk, “[Their lives] are dominated by recurrent intrusive, overwhelming memories related to the trauma in the shape of . . . nightmares, flashbacks or anxiety attacks, and/or they show extreme avoidance of involvement in life, fearing that any intense feelings may trigger a re-experience of trauma.”
How Does Our Mind/Body Process Emotions in Times of High Stress?
Fight/flight was designed to be used in times of danger, not throughout the day. But the body can’t tell the difference between real and fabricated fears, between the stress of a bad phone call, a traffic jam, and an elephant charging — it will react to all with the same highly-geared stress response evolved by early man. Our stress response is inextricably tied up with our survival system, which is triggered into action through fear. Fear is what signals the fight/flight/freeze survival defenses to engage. It is one of evolution’s most adaptive emotions. Without it we might head straight into the middle of traffic or pet a mother lioness. We need our fear — it’s nature’s way of shouting at us to keep away from danger. But flipping the stress switch into the “on” position too often can devolve into anxiety, depression, adrenal burnout and compromised immunity. We start to process stress too acutely and have trouble finding balance. This is hard on our body, mind, and relationships, to say nothing of our general peace of mind. Our prefrontal cortex — the thinking, planning part — shuts down along with the language part of our brain when we’re in high states of stress whether that stress is coming from being a child in a home that is chaotic or has parents who are acting out their moods at the expense of children’s or neglecting the needs of their children, or by being stuck in terrible traffic. In moments of high stress, our muscles flood with increased blood flow and we spurt adrenaline to prepare us for fight or flight. In the case of childhood trauma, generally speaking, we could do neither. Where would we have gone? Children are dependent upon their parents for home and hearth, but when home itself becomes the saber-toothed tiger, and the person the child would normally go to for support and understanding, namely the parent is the one scaring them, the child has a double whammy to deal with. Not only are they feeling terrified but the person who could help them to understand what’s going on is unavailable to them. How does this affect us as adults? Well, all of that feeling of fear, anxiety, and the pain went underground and never got “right-sized” or brought back into balance, in other words, we froze. And because the adults we’d normally have gone to in order to express our scared feelings and get reassurance were often the ones causing the chaos, to begin with, that pain remained frozen, unconscious and unprocessed. It is that very pain, anger, confusion, and anxiety that is triggered when we try to create intimacy as adults. The very feelings of vulnerability, dependence, neediness, and closeness that were part of our childhood relationships follow us into our partnering and parenting. And when there is unresolved pain, anger, and loneliness attached to these feelings, that follows us, too. This buried pain is what gets triggered when we try to create closeness as adults. Hence, we overreact — we import the old angst into our new relationship. Even a mean look, a loud voice, rejection or anger can make us shiver inside and return to that helpless, frozenness we experienced as a kid. We’re that scared child all over again, locked in the body of an adult. Some of the ways in which children who have experienced family trauma re-create old relationship dynamics in new relationships are through:
- Transference: We transfer or project the relationship dynamic.
- Reenactment dynamics: We recreate the painful unresolved relationship dynamics from childhood that are still frozen and unconscious within us, in our relationships with our partners.
- Projection: We project feelings that we cannot bear to sit with onto our partners and make the feeling about them or about the relationships rather than examine where it might be coming from within ourselves.
- Eliciting responses: We vibrate feelings and unfulfilled expectations or negative expectations into the atmosphere of our relationship, which elicits corresponding responses from our partners — then we get what we expect.
During trauma treatment, processing old pain can help us to make sense of it, as frozen feelings emerge in a safe, therapeutic environment along with our feelings of fear, vulnerability and hurt that we have defended against feeling through numbing them with drugs, alcohol, food, sex and so forth, we feel in service if healing. Though this process can feel, at times, dis-equilibrating, our adult minds can actually function as it’s meant to and make sense of our own pain once it can be seen and felt for what it is. Rather than project our pain and make it about someone or something else, we can own it, feel it, translate it into words, share it and understand it. Through trauma treatment, we can develop tools and skills that we previously did not possess for processing emotions. We can use our thinking mind to make sense of our feelings. Sources: Dayton, Tian (2007) Emotional Sobriety: From Relationship Trauma to Resilience and Balance, Health Communications, Deerfield Beach, Fla. Dayton, Tian (2005) The Living Stage: A Step by Step Guide to Psychodrama, Sociometry and Experiential Group Therapy, Health Communications, Deerfield Beach, Fla. Van der Kolk,, (Editor), Lars Weisaeth (Editor), Professor Alexander C McFarlane (Editor) Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body, and Society Guilford Press, NY, New York. Van der Kplk, 1987 Psychological Trauma , American Psychiatric Press, Arlington, Va