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How Trauma Affects Substance Abuse

Psychological trauma can occur in individuals who have experienced significant damage to their psyche. This can take place for a number of different reasons and this kind of trauma occurs any time an individual is faced with the stress that surpasses their ability to cope with that stress. Trauma and its consequences can be highly subjective, but it does have an effect on substance abuse.

Who Can Experience Trauma?

Trauma can occur in anyone, no matter their race, gender, age, or other identifiable factors. There are certain factors that might mitigate the damage that trauma can have on someone. People who come from a stable family may be more able to process traumatic events, whereas others may not. Since trauma can be experienced by anyone, it can be difficult for certain people to express thoughts and feelings regarding any childhood trauma. Childhood trauma can contribute to the development of trauma-related consequences immediately after the event or much later in life. Experiencing childhood trauma can increase the likelihood that an individual will suffer from depression, substance abuse, and PTSD. Forms of childhood trauma can include any type of abuse, witnessing a tragic event, and witnessing abuse. PTSD is caused by trauma and can affect 7.7 million Americans. Women are more likely to experience this than men, and there are studies that show that there could be a predisposition for PTSD and it‘s hereditary. People can experience PTSD without having to experience the traumatic event themselves. The death of family members can be enough to trigger PTSD.

The Relationship between Substance Abuse and Trauma

Many individuals who have experienced trauma then turn to substance abuse as a coping mechanism. There are a variety of substances that can make an individual feel calm, empowered, or numb. These are all sensations that aren’t experienced while being sober for those who have suffered from psychological trauma. Someone who has trauma could rely on benzodiazepines so he or she may feel relief from anxiety, or stimulants so he or she can feel and have energy. He or she may also use opioids to experience euphoria. Since each victim of trauma has different individual needs that they could turn to drugs for, it opens the door toward an addiction. Before any trauma can be treated, drug addiction will also need to be treated. Drug addiction can also worsen the effects of trauma.

Symptoms of Substance Abuse and Trauma

Symptoms of substance abuse can be failing to stop the use of the substance, a need to use it regularly, engagement in risky behavior while under the influence, an avoidance of activities that don’t involve the substance, performance decline at school or the workplace, physical appearance that is ignored, sleep disturbances, and changes in friends. Some of the symptoms of drug addiction that also include symptoms of trauma include depression, anxiety, and a change in behavior. Some of the ways to identify trauma include a response to triggers, depression, low self-esteem, a loss of trust, nightmares and flashbacks, periods of dissociation and detachment, and suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

Causes of Addiction and Trauma

Substance abuse is commonly seen in individuals who have suffered from trauma. About 25 percent of adolescents and children have experienced some sort of trauma. Experiencing trauma early on in life can increase an individual’s susceptibility for addiction. Even so, a person is still more susceptible to addiction if he or she experiences any trauma, whether it’s early on or later on in life. Addiction can also be hereditary, so even if a person doesn’t experience any trauma, he or she can still have a higher chance of addiction. A person may suffer more from trauma if there are low levels of cortisol or other abnormalities, such as altered levels of dopamine or low levels of serotonin. Trauma can include violence, accidents, child abuse, crime, sexual assault, domestic assault, and bullying. It can be a response to a single, one-time occurrence or developed over time due to a chronic situation.


Dual diagnoses of trauma and addiction can be difficult. The best treatment that is the most effective is designed to specially target both the trauma and the addiction. This kind of treatment usually involves psychotherapy and medication. Medication can be used to treat drug addiction, depending on which substances someone is addicted to. Medication can also be used to treat some of the symptoms of trauma, including depression or panic attacks. A treatment plan should be tailored to an individual and should be utilized regularly. Cognitive therapy is one of the forms of therapy that can be used. During this therapy, patients will unlearn preconceived notions about their life and the way they make decisions. The patient takes an active role in therapy. There is a proactive course of action.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, do not be afraid to reach out. At Principles Recovery Center, we are here for you 24/7. Take the right step towards recovery today, make the call or contact us here.

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