Feb 27, 2023

The Link Between Trauma and Addiction

Often, addiction is a byproduct of trauma. Using either drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism when suffering from trauma is a common reason addiction is so prevalent in trauma survivors. Recognizing this link is important to get an accurate diagnosis and receive appropriate treatment. 

What Is Addiction?

Addiction is a compulsive drive to use a substance even when it becomes harmful. Addiction is also referred to as substance dependence, substance abuse, and substance use disorder (SUD). It can significantly impact a person’s work, home life, and relationships. In many cases, it can lead to physical illness and organ dysfunction. 

Those with addiction may use alcohol, prescription drugs, or illegal substances. Unfortunately, it often leads to withdrawal when a person attempts to stop using the substance they are addicted to since their body no longer knows how to function without it. While a few people manage to stop using alcohol or drugs alone, most need help recovering from addiction. 

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

The exact signs of addiction vary depending on the substance being used. However, a few signs stand out no matter the type of addiction. People with addiction spend more time seeking and using their substance, have difficulty functioning without it, and require increasing amounts to achieve the same effects. They also often have trouble maintaining relationships through addiction and can be erratic and moody. 

Addiction also leads to many physical symptoms. This can include sweating, shaking, anxiety, and weight loss. In addition, some substances can cause damage to the skin and teeth, make a person more prone to infection, and impact muscle and bone health.

Understanding Trauma

Any number of events can trigger trauma, and every person reacts differently to a traumatic event. For example, natural disasters, assaults, illnesses, and accidents can all lead to trauma-related disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Trauma can have significant physical and emotional effects on a person long after the event. Therefore, successful trauma recovery depends on a person’s ability to link past trauma to their current symptoms, deal with the emotions surrounding the trauma, and develop healthy coping mechanisms. 

Adverse Childhood Events (ACEs) are a widely researched type of trauma, encompassing physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, neglect, and other traumatic experiences suffered during childhood. ACEs are prevalent in the US and are linked to higher risks of heart disease, respiratory illness, mental health issues, and addiction.

Trauma’s Signs and Symptoms

Signs of trauma aren’t always consistent between different people; they can manifest months or even years after a traumatic event. Those dealing with the effects of trauma may be anxious or moody, withdraw from social contact, or have inappropriate emotional responses. They may also often go out of their way to avoid remembering the traumatic event. They may have difficulty relating to others in their professional and personal lives.

The Link Between Trauma and Addiction

Researchers have well-documented adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) as a factor in addiction. Those with higher ACEs are significantly more likely to develop a drug addiction later in life. The US Department of Veterans Affairs data shows a similar correlation between PTSD and SUDs in veterans seeking care. You’ll likely find similar correlations can be found with other types of trauma, such as psychological trauma and physical trauma. 

It is thought that trauma can lead to addiction, and addiction can lead to trauma. Those that have experienced traumatic events may rely on alcohol or drugs to cope with the intense emotions and memories of the event and are more likely to become addicted to those substances. A substance use disorder also leads people to put themselves in positions to be subjected to violence and other sources of trauma. 

How to Know if You Have a Co-Occurring Disorder With Trauma & Addiction

Co-occurring trauma and addiction have a range of signs, typically including a few signs from both conditions. You may be able to identify a traumatic event and be using alcohol or drugs to forget it or have experienced the event while seeking alcohol or drugs. On the other hand, you may find yourself anxious or upset about certain environments or situations and need something to take the edge off. 

The hallmark of co-occurring trauma and addiction is experiencing trauma-related symptoms. These symptoms include flashbacks or avoidant behaviors and an inability to control substance use. It’s best to speak to a trained professional if you have any of these signs. 

Dual Diagnosis Treatment at Massachusetts Center for Addiction

One of the most important steps in recovering from co-occurring disorders is to get an appropriate diagnosis to create the right treatment plan for your needs. Trauma treatment is essential to a proper dual diagnosis treatment plan

Trauma treatment is a crucial component of a dual diagnosis plan. It typically involves seeking help at a facility, such as Massachusetts Center for Addiction, specializing in addiction and trauma. This leads to a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses the individual rather than just the conditions.

Massachusetts Center for Addiction offers support for both substance use disorders and mental health disorders, including trauma-informed care and dual diagnosis, with a dedicated interdisciplinary team. They provide treatment in various ways, including partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient options, to make care more accessible. In addition, they provide initial treatment plans as well as aftercare programs to support long-term recovery. 

Trauma and addiction can have a large negative impact on a person’s life. So if you or someone you love are struggling with these conditions, don’t hesitate to seek help. Reach out for an assessment and take the first step toward recovery today.

MCA Staff
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