Traumatic experiences can come to hold immense power over your thoughts, feelings and actions in life. Touching all aspects of your inner world as well as wreaking havoc on your external relationships.
While some may go through a harrowing experience and be able to easily put it behind them, for others overcoming trauma is a much more arduous journey. In the worst cases, trauma can lead you down the road of addiction and the potentially fatal consequences that accompany prolonged substance abuse.
The co-occurrence of the two – trauma and addiction – isn’t uncommon either, with studies showing that “individuals with PTSD were 2 to 4 times more likely than individuals without PTSD to meet criteria for an SUD (substance use disorder)”.
Before getting into the tips for working through anything though, we need to properly define the terms.
What Is Trauma?
As defined by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being”.
What qualifies as a traumatic event is different for each person, some examples are:
- Sexual or physical abuse
- Domestic violence
- Divorce and separation from parents
- Serious illness
- Death of family member or friend
- Natural disaster
- Significant medical procedures
Importantly, keep in mind that something can be traumatic for one person and have no effect on another and, also, there’s no statute of limitations on when trauma can affect you. Trauma experienced in childhood has a well-documented adverse effect in adults.
What Is Addiction?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as “a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences. It is considered a brain disorder because it involves functional changes to brain circuits involved in reward, stress, and self-control. Those changes may last a long time after a person has stopped taking drugs”.
Tips for Overcoming Trauma and Addiction – Dual Diagnosis Treatment
When you’re dealing with two or more disorders simultaneously, it’s referred to as a comorbidity. NIDA explains “this occurs frequently with substance use and mental disorders. Comorbidity also means that interactions between these two disorders can worsen the course of both”.
Given that, the best tip for working through co-occurring disorders is to treat them both at the same time.
There isn’t a silver bullet or shortcut to overcoming one and not the other because they tend to make each other worse, as mentioned. Trauma may well lead you to substances as a coping mechanism to get through the difficulties.
As your dependency on drugs or alcohol grows you feel like you need the substance to feel “normal”. As your tolerance builds, you consequently need more and more to feel like “yourself” and avoid thinking about the trauma that brought on the addiction to begin with.
That cycle becomes dangerous quickly.
Getting treatment for only your substance use disorder and not addressing the trauma that preceded and caused it, in many ways leaves you untreated. Sure, you may leave rehab sober but the coping mechanisms you learned might not stand a chance when something triggers you to remember that prior traumatic experience.
That’s why working through them together, in a dual-diagnosis treatment program, gives you the best shot at overcoming them both and leading a substance-free life without the pain and torment of trauma.
If trauma (or any other mental disorder) and addiction seem insurmountable for you or a loved one, reach out to us at Principles Recovery Center in South Florida, and we can shine more light on the benefits of dual-diagnosis treatment.