Understanding How Trauma Leads to Addiction

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Understanding How Trauma Leads to Addiction

Everyone experiences trauma of some kind in their lives.  However, some people get through it without too much difficulty while others struggle to adapt.  These individuals often suffer from a profound sense of isolation, fear, vulnerability, dread, and helplessness after experiencing a traumatic event.  For those reasons, it’s important to understand how trauma leads to addiction.

Today, it’s even more relevant that we understand the connection between trauma and addiction as we struggle to adapt to the challenges brought by the virus pandemic.

The Connection:  How Trauma Leads to Addiction

After a traumatic experience, it can be exhausting to cope and keep the feelings under control.  When this happens, a person often turns to drugs or alcohol to help them avoid reality.  Unfortunately, those substances only make it more difficult to cope with feelings, and can even intensify negative emotions.

Trauma increases the risk of substance abuse, and substance abuse increases the probability of more trauma.  This happens because a person abusing drugs or alcohol often engages in risky behavior thereby bringing more trauma into their lives.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):

  • 75% of people in treatment programs have histories of abuse and trauma.
  • 97% of homeless women with mental health issues report sexual of physical abuse.
  • 34% of those in substance abuse programs have PTSD.

Furthermore, a high percentage of people in treatment programs suffered from childhood trauma known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

Which Drugs Do Traumatized People Turn To?

When a person desperately wants to feel better, the most common drug of choice is alcohol.  However, some will turn to illicit stimulants such as cocaine, meth, or heroin.  Others turn to prescription anti-anxiety drugs or antidepressants. These drugs provide a “rush” and a sense of well-being by increasing the amount of dopamine in the brain.  But, when the drug wears off, the negative feelings return, and more of the drug is needed.  This an example of how trauma leads to addiction.

Other Physical or Mental Problems Linked to Trauma

Someone who struggles with stress and substance abuse may also have other physical or mental health problems as well.  In fact, about 50% of adults with SUD also have anxiety disorders such as panic attacks or phobias.  They may also struggle with major depression, ADHD, or antisocial personality disorder.

Physical health problems are common among people who are trying to cope with trauma by using drugs or alcohol.  For instance, they may be at high risk of chronic health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, or liver disease.

Healthy Ways of Coping with Trauma

According to the CDC, coping with trauma can be accomplished without turning to drugs or alcohol.

They suggest the following:

  • Maintain your usual routine.
  • Resolve day-to-day conflicts when they arise.
  • Don’t avoid situations or people that remind you of the trauma.
  • Seek out ways to relax and treat yourself special.
  • Reach out to trusted friends or family for support.
  • Take time to participate in recreational activities.
  • Recognize the fact that you can’t control everything.
  • Understand that it’s okay to feel upset when something bad happens.
  • Express your feelings and thoughts.

Also, consider seeking professional treatment if your symptoms last more than a few months.  If the symptoms interfere dramatically with normal daily functioning, it’s time to get help.

Treatment for Trauma and Addiction

Co-occurring disorders such as trauma and addiction can be effectively treated.  The best option is an addiction treatment program that addresses the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of the addiction.  With this approach, a person learns to cope with daily stress or trauma without the need for addictive substances.

At A Forever Recovery, our evidence-based programs ensure that all aspects of the addiction are recognized and treated for lasting results.  We understand how trauma leads to addiction and we realize that no one chooses to become addicted.

With a compassionate approach, we help patients discover the true cause of their addiction and learn the skills for taking back control of their lives.

Contact us today if you would like more information about our treatment program.


  • istss.org – Traumatic Stress and Substance Abuse Problems
  • cdc.govCoping With a Traumatic Event

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