Trauma and Addiction: The Complicated Relationship

Trauma and Addiction: The Complicated Relationship

Trauma and Addiction: The Complicated Relationship

In recognition of May as Mental Health Month, let’s take a look at the link between two of the most common co-occurring conditions – Substance Abuse Disorder (SUD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

First Things First – What Is Trauma?

Trauma refers to any previous experience that is painful, emotionally distressing, and out of the control of the person. Examples might include:

  • Childhood abuse or neglect
  • As a child, witnessing parental substance abuse or domestic violence
  • Being a victim of violence
  • Sexual assault
  • Death of a loved one
  • Disease or major illness
  • Surviving or witnessing a serious accident
  • Lingering injuries
  • Natural disasters – earthquakes, fires, floods, hurricanes, etc.
  • Divorce

Substance Abuse as an Unhealthy Coping Mechanism

Severe trauma can result in uncomfortable feelings that can be difficult to process, so a person with unresolved issues may turn to drugs and/or alcohol. They do this for two main reasons:

  • To numb physical and/or emotional pain.
  • To forget about or escape from the negative emotions and painful memories associated with the past trauma.

But ultimately, using intoxicants to cope with past traumatic experiences only makes the current situation worse – by increasing the risk of new trauma.

How Substance Abuse Can Lead to New Trauma

Illicit drug use or excessive drinking can cause a person to engage in dangerous behaviors that all too often result in new trauma. Examples include:

How to Treat A Dual Diagnosis of SUD and PTSD

For treatment to be truly effective, both conditions must be addressed simultaneously. The person must abstain from alcohol or drug use to avoid new trauma, while at the same time, they must learn new and healthier coping methods that don’t involve substance use.

Successful treatment strategies might include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Individual Counseling
  • Group Therapy
  • Grief/Trauma Processing
  • Medication Assistance
  • Holistic Therapies – yoga, meditation, exercise, nutrition, art therapy, etc.

Lasting Recovery is one of Southern California’s most trusted resources for people struggling from co-occurring addiction and PTSD. By using evidence-based and wellness-focused strategies, Lasting Recovery treats you as a WHOLE person and helps you return to a sober and more balanced life.

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