Are Trauma and Addiction Related?

According to SAMHSA, trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening with lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being. In the United States, 61 percent of men and 51 percent of women report exposure to at least one traumatic event.

There are many types of trauma that can affect someone’s life and can cause lifelong consequences. Trauma brings about a high level of stress, which can translate into anxiety and other issues. In order to cope with this stress, many people turn to substance abuse to “numb” the pain and negative thoughts associated with the trauma they have experienced.

Childhood Trauma

One major type of trauma that occurs is childhood trauma. In fact, about two-thirds of all people with substance use disorders have previously experienced some type of physical or sexual trauma during childhood. In one instance, addiction can result in normalization of alcohol and drug use in the home. This causes a person to become familiar with – and repeat – negative coping patterns that their parents used, even if they know it is bad.

During childhood, the growth of the brain and its physical structure are affected by a person’s experiences throughout their life. While most life experiences lead to positive brain development, negative experiences can alter the brain’s development with cognitive, behavioral and social impairments. In short, experiencing such a high level of stress at a very early age can permanently affect the brain’s structure. It causes lifelong issues with anxiety, stress, trust, relationships, and depression. That said, children who experience a negative home life or witness a scary event are extremely susceptible to addiction.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

According to the American Psychiatric Association, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault. When someone has experienced a traumatic event, they may not realize how much it will affect them in the long term. Many things can stem from PTSD, including anxiety, depression, addiction, and even suicide.

Some symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder include:

  • Intrusive thoughts. These can include repetitive, involuntary memories, nightmares; or flashbacks of the traumatic event. Flashbacks may be extremely vivid.
  • Avoiding reminders. This can include avoiding people, places, activities, objects, or situations that could possibly trigger bad memories. This can result in isolation, people not leaving their homes, or completely avoiding having to talk about the event.
  • Negative thoughts and feelings. Some of these thoughts and feelings can consist of not being able to trust anyone, paranoia, fear, horror, anger, guilt or shame. People can become very detached from other people, believing that they will never be understood.
  • Reactive symptoms. This may include extreme irritability and heightened anger, reckless behavior, insomnia, and short attention span.

Root Cause of Addiction

Addiction always stems from some type of root cause. The person suffering from addiction might not always know what that is until they are able to enter treatment and explore their past. Feeling the need to constantly run away from negative thoughts and feelings associated with a traumatic event is typical of people suffering from an addiction and co-occurring PTSD, and is a red flag for needing to get into treatment.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Experiencing these negative thoughts and feelings without the “help” of substances to numb it can seem like a lifetime of depression for some people. While this can be a short-term solution, it does great damage in the long term and often leads to overdose and death. The truth is, addiction does nothing but exacerbate anxiety and depression. Learning how to deal with these negative thoughts and emotions, as well as learning how to manage triggers, can be achieved in dual diagnosis treatment. Dual diagnosis treatment not only helps to treat the actual addiction and detox but also to treat the emotional work behind the addiction.

About Pinelands Recovery Center

Up to 75 percent of all people who have experienced serious trauma have suffered from substance abuse. If you or a loved one have experienced a traumatic event and are also experiencing addiction, it is extremely likely that the two are connected. Treatment for the addiction without treatment for the traumatic event will not work. Long term sobriety and recovery counts on treating both through dual diagnosis. Once a person can overcome their trauma and learn how to live with it moving forward, they will be able to thrive and live a happy, healthy life in recovery.

Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford is widely known as one of New Jersey’s finest, most respected addiction treatment facilities. With comfortable 30-bed accommodations and 24-hour professional staff, we can offer clients a serene, relaxing environment amid the lush piney woods. This stress-free setting with its sense of warmth and welcoming enables you to feel comfortable and confident about your clean and sober life ahead.

We will establish clear goals, both general in nature and specific to your needs. We continue to monitor those goals, to make sure that our clients are progressing and buying into their recovery plan. We thrive on assisting clients in feeling connected to the recovery community, share and demonstrate effective coping techniques, help clients to modify attitudes and patterns of behavior and everything else you will need to be happy and productive living a sober, healthy life.

We ensure that clients complete their planned concrete tasks, encourage hope, optimism and healthy living. Our recovery program is not a revolving door treatment program; it is a recovery model designed to help clients go on to lead productive, happy lives. For more information, visit