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The Role of Trauma in Substance Abuse

We often hear that addiction is closely related to underlying trauma, but what does that mean? Not everyone who ends up developing a substance use disorder has a terrible past or mental health issues, right?

While this is true, the majority of those with drug or alcohol abuse disorders have underlying trauma that drives addiction. Understanding trauma and its correlation with substance abuse is vital to ending stigmas and helping people overcome drug and alcohol abuse.

What is Trauma?

The primary reason so many don’t understand the link between trauma and illicit substance use is because they don’t understand trauma itself. Trauma is divided into two categories: emotional and physical trauma. Most commonly, addiction is connected to mental and emotional trauma, but physical trauma can also be a contributing factor.

Physical Trauma and Addiction

When substance abuse stems from physical trauma like an injury or illness, addiction may begin with a prescription. Powerful opioid pain medications carry addictive qualities, leaving even those using only the prescribed amount potentially vulnerable to addiction. Prescription drug abuse may begin because pain exceeds the initial prescription strength because of tolerance. For others, the psychological side effects and ‘high’ produced by opioid abuse create a dependency that makes it difficult to overcome. This may be further complicated by chronic pain.

Psychological Trauma and Substance Abuse

This form of trauma is challenging for people to understand without personal experience. What is traumatic to one may not be traumatic to another, and as such, it can be difficult to gain empathy or understanding. At its core, psychological trauma is damage to the mind as a result of a distressing event. This mental and emotional form of trauma can be triggered by a direct experience or witnessing a traumatic event. Common causes include:

  • Childhood neglect
  • Childhood sexual abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Natural disasters
  • Car accidents
  • War or combat
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Sexual assault

How Trauma Feeds Addiction

Understanding how trauma and addiction are connected is key to breaking the cycle of drug and alcohol abuse and achieving true recovery. Without this vital step, relapse is a constant threat looming over the horizon. Addiction recovery is more than just abstaining from using illicit substances; it’s a healing and transformative journey that continues each day. By removing the fog of drugs and alcohol, sobriety allows one to truly address the underlying causes of addiction and take control of the path of their future.

When substance abuse stems from trauma, it often begins as escapism. This perpetuates a cycle of abuse that begins with the initial use of illicit substances. Where illicit substances can reduce stress and relieve anxiety, they are a bandage, not a cure. The negative thoughts and emotions still exist underneath, causing one to become reliant on drugs and alcohol to cope with life.

As abuse continues, physical dependence further complicates the issue. Your body becomes so accustomed to the toxins in your body, one experiences unpleasant and potentially dangerous symptoms of withdrawal, creating a physical need for the substance. Drinking or getting high becomes less about the effects and more about staving off illness. Higher tolerance can also lead to heavier substance use, further deepening addiction’s hold.

If left unchecked, addiction can only end in tragedy. Don’t let this be the end of your story. No matter how long you’ve been in the throes of addiction, recovery is possible.

For information about how we can help, contact us now.