The Link Between Trauma and Addiction
Every One of Us Has Experienced Trauma
Being alive is a beautiful mysterious experience filled with triumphs, tragedies, joy, laughter, and good times with amazing people. Yet, as the saying goes, “Every rose has its thorn.”
As life unfolds and we work to create a positive experience for ourselves and our loved ones, trauma will eventually rear its head. Just as we enjoy bliss, so too will we have to navigate pain. Traumatic events are a part of life. Plain and simple.
Consider how, on the entire planet, not one human being on the planet has traveled on an “exempt from trauma” ticket. Studies suggest that by age 8, at least 60 percent of children have experienced some kind of traumatic event in their lives. Add to that pool of trauma survivors those who have experienced complex trauma, and the number is near all humanity. We are resilient, and every adult has faced some kind of single-event trauma (ex: assault, break up, fight, accident, etc) or repetitive complex trauma in their life – and this includes the things that actually occurred as well as the trauma resulting from the absence of certain key pillars to life like loving connection to a parent and more.
Most of us have not been shown, or taught how to effectively deal with the trauma.
“It’ll toughen you up!!!”
“You’re weak if you cry.”
Those are some of the things we hear, that help us tuck trauma away, down down down, into the “unresolved” pockets rather than dealing with them straight on. As a result, many develop less than useful coping strategies to numb the shame, the pain, even the gains we make in life – all back-linked to those experiences resulting from trauma. Why do I hurt myself when I want to thrive, and live?
What is Trauma?
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) defines trauma this way:
“Trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening with lasting adverse effects on an individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.”
There are three types of trauma: acute, chronic, and complex. Acute trauma results from one single isolated incident. Chronic trauma happens when there is repeated and prolonged exposure to traumatic events, such as domestic violence or childhood abuse. Complex trauma exists when an individual has been exposed to varied and multiple events of a traumatic nature, or the absence of useful and needed support vital to healthy development.
Here are just a few examples of traumatic events:
- Sexual assault
- Any form of abuse that occurs in childhood or adulthood
- A car accident
- A serious, life-changing injury
- Witnessing violence against someone else
- Being the victim of a violent event (robbery, for example)
- Experiencing combat in a war zone
- Living through a natural disaster (earthquake, fire, flood, etc.)
These are just a few of the many different types of trauma someone may experience in their lifetime. No trauma is worse than any others from a central nervous system perspective – it’s all in how we process and live with the hurt. Wild right? It all depends on how the individual responds to the experience and how it shapes their mental and emotional functioning. The same thing might happen to two people, on the same street, on the same day and one will be devastated by it while the other walks away like a cartoon popping back into full form and function. In other words, two people may experience the same event, while they each respond to it in their own way.
What is PTSD?
Many people experience trauma and it has a minimal effect on them. For example, someone might be involved in a serious car accident and experience acute trauma. Their mental health is effected, but only for a short period of time. Something hard happened, and poof! – they get over it. However; chronic and complex trauma tend to have a more profound effect and can often result in PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Many people mistakenly believe that only veterans who have served in a combat zone can experience the debilitating effects of PTSD. This is simply not true. Anyone who is exposed to a traumatic event can develop this anxiety disorder.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is the international authority on PTSD, and rightfully so. Many servicemembers who return home from combat in desperate need of trauma-focused care. Here is what the VA has to say about PTSD:
“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a serious mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or a sexual assault.”
Typically, someone who experiences a traumatic event will feel some psychological upset in the weeks that follow. However; they should return to a place of normalcy fairly quickly. If someone is experiencing trauma symptoms months or years after the event or events, they most likely have PTSD. Also, it is important to note that symptoms can show up much later on, or they may come and go over time.
Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Recognizing the symptoms of PTSD is the first step toward healing. Many people have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but they don’t even realize it. They have become so accustomed to the aftermath of a traumatic event, it just becomes their day-to-day living condition.
This is not to say that these symptoms are not problematic. PTSD can be quite debilitating. It robs an individual of their peace of mind. It interferes with the ability to enjoy fulfilling interpersonal relationships. And, it causes mental stress and anguish. No one should have to live like this.
Here are just a few of the many symptoms you may be experiencing if you have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder:
- Nightmares, night sweats, or night terrors
- Flashbacks to the event
- Unexplained headaches
- Loss of appetite
- A general feeling of uneasiness
- Mood swings
- A need to withdrawal from others
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Isolation from social relationships
- A strong urge to avoid leaving your house
The severity of these symptoms can vary from person to person. Someone may experience all of these symptoms or just a few on the list. If you believe you have PTSD, it is best to seek the help of a licensed mental health professional to get a proper diagnosis.
If You Don’t Deal With Trauma, Trauma Will Deal With You
Unfortunately, many of us were brought up in the “suck it up” culture. In other words, we were taught to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and carry on with the plan of the day. This is especially true if we grew up in abusive or dysfunctional families. We were never given permission to feel our feelings and process them with someone who could help us.
For this reason – and many others – people who have experienced trauma or are suffering with PTSD turn to alcohol and drugs like heroin, crystal meth, or cocaine to deal with uncomfortable feelings. Studies have shown there is a direct link between trauma and addiction. In fact, studies suggest that as many as 60 percent of all people who have PTSD also struggle with some kind of addiction.
Initially, drug and alcohol use provides a kind of escape hatch that allows people to avoid painful memories and experiences. However, it only masks the pain; which ultimately resurfaces with time. In the end, a person is left with a harrowing addiction to battle AND unhealed trauma wounds – which makes for one miserable existence.
The good news is, PTSD and addiction can be treated – but they must BOTH be addressed to ensure ongoing recovery.
The Value of Trauma Treatment
Trauma treatment allows you to recognize how the past is negatively impacting your present reality. Recently a patient declared “I suffer in the here and now from things from so long ago that I don’t know what to do!” We do, I told her. We know what to do, and so it is. Education and inspiration help many allow appropriate clinical care to change the very state of suffering by changing the impact of old hurt and trauma.
You may not even be consciously aware of how traumatic experiences have shaped your perception of yourself, others, and the world around you. Conversely, you may be painfully aware of how PTSD continues to painfully influence your daily life, but you have no idea what to do about it.
In either case, if you do not feel like you are living your best life because of past traumas – or you are battling with an addiction as a way to cope with PTSD – it might be time to consider getting help.
Ready to Start Your Healing Journey?
At Breathe Life Healing Center, we offer client-centered and powerful trauma treatment for those how yearn to experience healing and personal empowerment. Our trauma-informed care helps our clients reclaim their lives, and experience personal freedom.
If you are ready to reconcile the events of your past or get help for a drug or alcohol addiction we are here to help. We want you to enjoy your life and be your best self.