Pathways Wellness

What Is the Role of Trauma in Addiction?

What Is the Role of Trauma in Addiction?
Raul Haro
August 13, 2023
When studying the causes of addiction, there is an obvious role of trauma that factors in addiction rates. Of course, there are other causes of addiction. Some of these include environment, family history, genetics, or even peer pressure. However, trauma tends to be one of the most common reasons why someone may develop an addiction.  […]
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What is the Role of Trauma in Addiction?

When studying the causes of addiction, there is an obvious role of trauma that factors in addiction rates. Of course, there are other causes of addiction. Some of these include environment, family history, genetics, or even peer pressure. However, trauma tends to be one of the most common reasons why someone may develop an addiction. 

The role of trauma in addiction can make creating a treatment plan challenging, but it is doable. Trauma and addiction must be treated at the same time, or treatment will not be effective. It's why at Pathways Wellness Center, clients are evaluated by mental health care professionals. These professionals can identify when a client is struggling with trauma as well as an addiction and can guide them into creating a treatment plan. Sometimes a person may not realize they are struggling with trauma until they have spoken to a mental health care professional. 

It's important to understand the role of trauma in addiction. Only by understanding trauma and how it affects us can we understand why treatment is vital to recovery.

The Role of Trauma in Building Relationships

Trauma can come from many sources. The most common causes of trauma are natural disasters, sudden death, war, and violence. Trauma that comes from abuse and violence done to yourself is traumatic because it's a betrayal of your trust. If the trauma comes from loved ones, it's a betrayal of your trust in them to treat you with kindness. When violence is done upon you, it's a betrayal of your ability to feel safe in your home or out in society. This betrayal can make trusting other people difficult and can lead to self-isolation.

As human beings, we need social interactions with fellow people to stay healthy. We rely on a support network to get through the challenges of life. A healthy support network is made up of people you trust to support and love you. When someone is struggling with trauma, they may refuse to create these support networks because they cannot bear the thought of being betrayed so intimately again. It's a reaction to protect themselves from being harmed again. 

Usually, when someone begins to abuse a substance, a support network will raise concerns and encourage the individual to get help. Those with trauma rarely allow others into their lives and thus can spiral downwards into addiction before any casual acquaintance can notice.

The Role of Trauma in Self-Medicating

Experiencing and living with trauma is painful. It makes it difficult to live everyday life and can cause a host of mental health disorders. Perhaps the most well-known of these disorders is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). People will often attempt to treat trauma symptoms on their own by using substances. The goal is to numb or drown out the symptoms or memories of the traumatic event. This is known as self-medicating and can eventually spiral into addiction if left unchecked.

The problem with self-medicating is that eventually, the substance of choice won't be as effective anymore. As the brain becomes used to the chemicals, it begins to need more to achieve the state of high or numbness as before. For example, someone may drink a glass of alcohol each night so they can forget about their trauma. Eventually, the glass turns into a pint, which can turn into a bottle, and so forth, until there are serious adverse effects. This out-of-control substance use can land someone in the emergency room, especially if said substance is particularly dangerous. 

The role of trauma in addiction here becomes a vicious cycle of needing more and more to feel “normal.” It can be hard to know what to do next once you recognize that you need help. Luckily, there are treatment options that can help those in need overcome their struggles.

Getting Treatment for Trauma and Addiction

When someone enrolls in treatment for their addiction and trauma, they can expect to receive a wide variety of therapies as part of their treatment plan. As mentioned earlier, both disorders must be treated at the same time. Trying to treat one at a time will only exacerbate the symptoms of the other disorder. As a result, one can expect their treatment plan to be extensive – but thorough.

Primarily, a client will receive a type or multiple types of psychotherapy. This is also known as talk therapy and is used to help someone work through their traumatic event. Then, they will learn the tools needed to cope with their trauma, and, subsequently, cope with their addiction. Skills are learned in psychotherapy, which will help the client deal with future upsetting or traumatic events in a healthy way. 

Clients may also expect to receive therapies designed to teach self-regulation and mindfulness. Examples include yoga, breathwork, and art therapy. These techniques are used to help someone self-calm, especially if they are dealing with a trauma-based anxiety disorder. Such techniques are applied to addiction to help clients resist cravings when alone.

Trauma and addiction treatment includes the building of a support or peer network. Pathways Wellness Center encourages its clients to support each other through treatment. We also have several peer support networks made of alumni who are always eager to mentor clients who are undergoing similar struggles to themselves. For those who are afraid of contact due to trauma, this offers a safe environment to learn how to trust again. Support networks are a vital part of addiction and trauma treatment.

The role of trauma in addiction is clear. It causes pain, but the pain doesn't have to last forever. With proper treatment, personal work, support, and time, anyone can recover from trauma and addiction.

There are many reasons why someone may develop an addiction. One of the leading causes of addiction is trauma. This is because people will sometimes attempt to cope with their trauma through the use of substances. Often, this leads to addiction. It's why addiction treatment isn't just about the addiction itself at Pathways Wellness Center. It's about identifying the trauma that caused it and utilizing available therapies to heal from it. A person is not weak because they struggle with addiction and trauma. They are simply people in need of help. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and trauma, don't wait. Learn more about treatment options at our Glendora, California, facility today at (888) 771-0966.

About the Author

Raul Haro
Raul Haro is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with sixteen years of experience working in both the inpatient and outpatient setting. As an LMFT, He has trained in trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy and EMDR. Raul has furthered his training in the drug and alcohol field by obtaining a Masters in Drug and Alcohol Counseling through CCAPP. Raul has a background in nursing where he has been an LVN for over 25 years. Recently, he has returned to school to complete a degree in Registered Nursing. Future plans are for Raul are to eventually complete a degree as a Nurse Practitioner combining his therapy practice with his nursing skills.

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