Understanding the Role of Emotional Trauma in Addiction

Understanding the Role of Emotional Trauma in Addiction

When people hear the term “trauma,” they often associate it with a physical trauma, like a car accident or a fall that results in broken bones. While physical trauma can be painful and make life complicated, it is not the only type of trauma. Many people experience emotional and psychological trauma throughout their lives. Living through these incidents can result in a lifelong struggle to regain balance and develop resilience. For some, trauma plays a strong role in the development of addiction.

Events that Can Result in Emotional Trauma

Traumatic events don’t look the same for everyone – and what causes one person trauma may not affect another individual. It’s important to evaluate all of the factors at play when considering a trauma.

Some of the more common causes of emotional and psychological trauma include:

  • Living through a natural disaster
  • Experiencing or witnessing violence, including sexual violence
  • Involvement in an accident, like a car crash (this can result in both physical and emotional trauma)
  • Divorce or sudden end to an important relationship
  • Death of a loved one
  • Time serving in the military
  • Diagnosis of cancer or other life-threatening disease

All of these events can shake up the way that people view the world around them. Additionally, there are other factors that can make a person more susceptible to emotional trauma. For example, if a person has never developed resilience or strong coping skills, they may have a harder time overcoming an emotional trauma.

Similarly, experiencing trauma during childhood years can cause the trauma to run deeper and cause more stress and anxiety throughout a person’s lifetime if they do not receive treatment.

Signs and Symptoms of Emotional Trauma

People who have been through an emotional or psychological trauma experience a variety of signs and symptoms. These can range from mildly annoying to interfering with daily life and tasks. Common ones include:

  • Intrusive memories – These memories can show up in dreams, flashbacks, or intrusive thoughts.
  • Avoidance – If you’ve been in an auto accident, you may avoid riding in a car or talking about the car crash itself because the experience caused you stress.
  • Turbulent emotional or physical responses – You may be easily startled, have trouble sleeping, or experience angry outbursts.

Without treatment, these symptoms can intensify and make it harder and harder to handle daily life tasks. Reaching out to a qualified trauma-informed counselor can help you overcome the trauma so you can begin facing life head-on again.

Why Trauma Can Lead to Addiction

Self-medication is a common response to emotional and psychological trauma. People may turn to drugs or alcohol to stop themselves from thinking about the trauma or to make themselves feel better. They may also use substances as sleep aids if they experience insomnia as a symptom of trauma.

Additionally, emotional trauma can sometimes be accompanied by physical trauma. When this happens, doctors may prescribe opioid pain medications that can lead to abuse and eventually addiction.

Trauma skews the chemicals in the brain, causing it to produce more of the hormones associated with stress and fewer associated with happiness. The brain wants to return the body to equilibrium as quickly as possible. When it can’t do that on its own or has become accustomed to receiving outside help to do so, it begins to crave whatever is helping it feel better.

Treating Trauma and Addiction as Co-Occurring Disorders

Whether the trauma came first or the addiction came first doesn’t matter – if both exist, it is critical to treat both in order for either one to improve. At RAIN Recovery, we understand the importance of treating addiction and any other underlying conditions clinically and holistically.

You can’t get better if you aren’t addressing your addiction through a whole person treatment plan. We’ll work with you to create an individualized plan that focuses on your underlying trauma, helping you to free yourself and live the life you deserve.

Give us a call today at (818) 208-9446 or contact us on the website to speak to an admissions counselor and start having your first a-ha moments today!

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