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The Link Between Trauma and Addiction

Trauma is a set of experiences with long-term effects on your bodily, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Addiction and trauma are linked.

Traumatic events in life make you who you are today. They alter how you see the world and yourself. So, it is not unusual to learn that someone who has gone through a terrible event in the past now battles addiction. There is a fatal link between trauma and alcohol abuse or drug addiction, but that is not the end of the story.

You might find hope, healing, and freedom from the substance keeping you captive.

Keep reading for more details to know the link between trauma and addiction.

Key Takeaways

Trauma is more than a severe life event due to its effects. Sometimes, it paves the way for drug or alcohol abuse. Seek help for your mental and physical health before it is too late.

  • Trauma might be the outcome of a sudden but severe life event.
  • Common types of trauma include physical or sexual assault, accidents, and natural disasters.
  • Modern research shows that trauma and addiction have a chicken-egg relationship.
  • Rehab for trauma and addiction may include dual diagnosis, therapy, detox, and inpatient care.

If you have a drug issue, visit The Haven Detox-South Florida rehab facility. Contact us at: (561) 328-8627.

What is Trauma?

Trauma is more than just a horrible event. It is an event or set of experiences with long-term effects on your bodily, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being. Trauma raises stress levels because your body and mind see the event as possibly fatal or mentally harsh.

Hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which control your body’s fight-or-flight response, are released in response to stress.

These hormones can be helpful in an emergency, but toxic levels are risky. Your body cannot distinguish between a situation requiring a fight-or-flight response and your memory of an incident.

Causes of Trauma

Trauma victims can be in a cycle where they cannot move on or absorb what has happened. That may result in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a severe mental health condition.

Similar mental fight-or-flight reactions occur in people who endure childhood trauma. PTSD is linked to veterans who have recently returned from war or battle. Some individuals may use alcohol or drugs as a form of self-medication to numb their emotions.

Trauma comes in various forms, with the following being the most prevalent:

Physical Assault

It is a physical attack when someone is continuously physically abused, jumped, or beaten up. The culprit can be a stranger or someone the victim knows.

Sexual Assault

When someone is molested or raped, it is sexual assault. One of the most common types of traumatic events is sexual assault.

Emotional or Verbal Abuse

Emotional abuse is when someone tries to control another person by criticizing, shaming, or blaming them using their emotions. Being stuck in an emotionally abusive relationship can cause trauma, just as being in a physically abusive relationship can.

Domestic Violence

When someone faces violence inside the home, it falls under domestic violence. Domestic violence does not only refer to spousal abuse, as parental or fraternal abuse is also possible.


Accidental injuries from vehicle accidents, at work, or in other situations can be highly upsetting. It holds for those not directly involved in the collision but familiar with the injured party. Accidents often cause severe PTSD and flashbacks.

Natural Disasters

Those who face natural disasters may lose their homes, loved ones, or daily routines. These events may result in PTSD or other upsetting events.

Parental Neglect

When a parent fails to give their child the means needed to survive and grow, it may create parental neglect. This may be a lack of food, unhealthy living quarters, or verbal, physical, or sexual abuse.

Bullying or Ongoing Harassment

Another typical kind of unpleasant encounter is bullying. It often causes issues that last until adulthood. Bullying can have adverse effects regardless of how big or minor the event is.

Terminal Illness

Dealing with long-term or chronic sickness can be traumatic. Years after the illness, signs-related flashbacks or disturbing feelings may still occur.

These are only a few examples, but PTSD can result from surviving any situation in which you believe your life is in danger.

Trauma: A Risk Factor for Substance Abuse

Citing the self-medication theory of substance misuse, individuals who struggle with substance abuse do so to cope with the stress of their trauma symptoms and the impacts of trauma exposure. Young people use alcohol and other drugs to numb intense feelings.

Several studies have shown that many teens experience substance use after developing trauma. Exposure to recaps of the traumatic event may raise drug cravings in people with co-occurring trauma.

A recent study also raises the risk that PTSD may make it harder for teens to stop using.

Substance Abuse: A Risk Factor for Trauma

New research has revealed that many teens develop substance use before trauma exposure. Several risky activities that teens may engage in, like strolling through unsafe areas, and driving after using alcohol or drugs, have a link to alcohol abuse.

More than 25 percent of teenage drinkers binge or drink heavily. It should come as no surprise that teens with drug abuse are at more risk than their peers who do not use substances to suffer traumas.

The functional losses due to drug use might make it harder for teens to recover from a traumatic incident.

Due to the many possible links between trauma and substance misuse, the best substance abuse treatment also treats trauma.

Trauma and Addiction

One of the most notably adapted structures on earth is the human brain. It can respond to and adjust to anything you observe during your life due to a quality called plasticity. Your brain’s neurons grow, change, or even break due to everything you do. 

Both positive and negative variations are vital, depending on the changes, to keep you alive. Patients with tragic brain injuries can use this ability to retrain functions like walking and speech.

The brain can rewire itself to maintain your ability to operate.

Childhood Trauma and Addiction

Due to plasticity, you tend to carry over your childhood experiences into teenage and adulthood. They influence your thoughts, actions, and responses to others. Childhood trauma and drinking, and other addictions are indivisibly linked.

Because childhood abuse and trauma may be the reason for structural defects in the brain, there is a link between child abuse and drug addiction. Such issues may result in a variety of cognitive issues. High cortisol levels and other stress hormones common to childhood trauma delay brain growth.

PTSD is just one of the long-term mental health disorders that trauma can cause. As many as two-thirds of all people with addictions suffered some abuse in their childhood. People with addiction might also take after family members they grew up around with substance abuse.

Many people turn to self-medication due to these issues, the basis for substance abuse.

Physical Trauma and Addiction

Physical abuse and trauma cause a great deal of physical suffering. Painkillers are often provided to patients to help them cope and dull their emotions. A person is more inclined to take more than the usual dose to help with pain relief if suffering from severe physical trauma.

But higher amounts can raise the risk of addiction. It is one of the primary causes of the opioid epidemic in the United States.

Emotional Trauma and Addiction

It can be tricky to identify emotional trauma. Bullying and emotional abuse can cause later-life mental health issues like sadness or anxiety. Due to the risk of using drugs or alcohol to dull the pain, cope with PTSD, or flee, those with emotional trauma are more prone to struggle with addiction.

PTSD and Addiction: Co-occurring Disorders

A dual diagnosis or a co-occurring disorder is what you have if you have PTSD and a drug or alcohol addiction. Although PTSD can affect anyone, 35-75 percent of veterans with the disease abuse drugs or alcohol to help them cope with their war experiences.

People with PTSD sometimes use drugs and alcohol to treat their symptoms or cope with their triggers, which might include:

  • Anxiety
  • Sensitivity
  • Depression
  • Social withdrawal
  • Insomnia

Depending on the condition, the patient can abuse alcohol and drugs to “heal” themselves. The approach doesn’t work, and they’ll build up a tolerance to their preferred drug, leaving them in a worse situation than when they started.

This cycle may build a visible link between trauma and addiction.

Any person with a substance use issue and a mental health condition, such as someone who suffers from severe anxiety, has a dual diagnosis. A rehab center must address both the addictive cycle and the underlying trauma that gave rise to the addiction.

It could entail analyzing all triggers linked with the trauma.

Addressing these two issues is vital in the event of a dual diagnosis. But using drugs or alcohol will make it hard to know the underlying trauma or triggers.

Treatment for Trauma and Addiction

If trauma is not treated and dealt with, it can negatively affect a person for a long time. Addiction is no different. As a result, if you have battled trauma or addiction, you must get help from a therapist, rehab facility, or medical expert.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

A type of recovery known as dual diagnosis involves substance use issues and any underlying mental health issues or traumatic events. The main goal of dual diagnosis is to identify that it is a complex condition and that both issues must be addressed for long-term healing.


Therapy is one of the most vital things when it comes to battling trauma and addiction. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps teach the patient new coping skills.

The patient can process the trauma in a secure setting during therapy. CBT often coexists with groups and programs for addiction recovery.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a healing process to ease suffering due to traumatic memories. A patient undergoing EMDR will briefly recall traumatic events while focused on an external object or stimulus. The therapy could include hand-tapping, music, or various other moves.

EMDR therapy seeks to reduce emotional distress while forming new links and contacts that will lead to a more thorough growth of memory and learning.


Detox is a way of removing a substance from the body. Because withdrawal effects, such as a high heart rate, can be highly harmful and even deadly, detox should be done in a rehab facility. Doctors may taper your drug use, or slowly reduce the drug dosage over time, to control the side effects of some drugs.

Someone who cares about battling addiction should seek help from a rehab center.

Inpatient Care

Patients stay in an inpatient rehab facility for a while as they go through the healing process. The therapy for trauma and addiction could focus on easing withdrawal signs until the patient has made progress with the incident.

Seek expert help if you are battling trauma or addiction. Although talking about trauma and addiction can be tricky, doing so can help people discover more serenity, sobriety, and coping skills.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How does trauma lead to addiction?

Physical distress is a typical result of trauma and abuse. A person is more likely to take more than the usual dose to help with pain relief if suffering from severe trauma. But higher doses can increase the risk of addiction.
Emotional trauma, a type of trauma, may also lead to addiction. Although it can be hard to identify, bullying can cause mental health issues like anxiety. Due to that, people use drugs or alcohol to dull the pain, cope with PTSD, or flee from reality.

What is the relationship between addiction and trauma?

There is a two-way link between substance misuse and trauma. Substance or alcohol abuse is more likely to occur after trauma, and trauma is more likely to be re-experienced after substance misuse due to engaging in risky activity.
It is also true that those who abuse alcohol or drugs have a hard time handling traumatic settings.
It makes sense that someone overcome with guilt, dread, and anxiety needs a place to turn for comfort. Alcohol use can serve as a substitute for that solace. Drugs or actions that put them at greater risk can provide quick relief.

What percentage of addicts have a history of trauma?

Scars from traumatic events might appear on the surface or go deep within the body. Traumatic mental impacts can affect a person’s worldview and manner of life. It is the inability to know or get over the event without continually going through it again.
Many trauma victims resort to coping skills without medical help, such as anger, self-harm, and drug or alcohol use. People with trauma often have severe mental health issues.
According to studies, 25 percent of people with traumatic experiences and 40 percent of those who have PTSD face problems with substance abuse.

Get Help from The Haven Detox-South Florida 

Trauma results from extreme life events and may provide a base for drug or alcohol abuse. Medical detox is the first step in a rehab plan to remove toxic kinds of stuff from your body.

Afterward, a group of addiction specialists may focus on customized behavioral recovery. Finally, you may overcome substance use and trauma via trust and cooperation. You’ll start to feel in control and strong as you learn alternatives to self-medication.

Although trauma may have been a part of your family history, it does not have to control your present or future. The Haven Detox-South Florida facility’s inpatient program provides tailored care to give you the skills to free yourself from addiction.

We give you the best chance of recovery due to treating addiction and trauma at the same time. Don’t let addiction and trauma affect your life.

See the positive side of life and dial (561) 328-8627 to contact us.

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