Traumatic events can shape an individual in many ways. Whether it’s an abusive childhood or a serious experience you faced as an adult, these situations can change how you view yourself and the world around you. It’s not uncommon for someone who’s had a traumatic experience develop an addiction at some point in their life. But why is this exactly? How does trauma contribute to addiction development?
In this article, we’ll be discussing the connection between trauma and addiction to hopefully help individuals find the hope and healing they need for recovery.
Trauma and its effect on the human brain
The human brain is known to adapt to different situations. Thanks to a trait called plasticity, the brain responds to anything and everything individual experiences in their life. This ability plays into your daily life experiences, allowing you to develop new skills and create new memories as you navigate through the world.
Both good and bad experiences contribute to the growth of your brain’s neurons, causing them to change or break depending on the necessary adjustments to keep you functioning. It’s this skill that enables patients who suffered traumatic brain injuries to re-learn walking or speaking. If you think about it, the brain can literally rewire itself to allow you to continue to live normally.
So how does this correlate to addiction development? How does a bad experience follow you throughout your life? Plasticity is also the reason why the experiences you had in childhood carry over to your transition to adolescence. They affect how you think, speak, behave, and react to different situations. It’s clear that the connection between childhood trauma and addiction development is strong which is why some people resort to drugs or alcohol to cope with the traumatic feelings that still reside in them.
Cognitive psychologists believe that trauma and maltreatment can cause abnormalities in the brain structure. These abnormalities can create numerous problems with cognition and behaviour due to high cortisol levels and other stress hormones that arise from traumatic experiences.
Trauma can also lead to a variety of mental health issues, with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) being one example. Almost two-thirds of individuals with addiction have experienced some form of trauma during their childhood. They may also mimic their alcohol or drug abuse based on behaviours they’ve witnessed from family members while growing up. Such issues can make people feel compelled to self-medicate, thus establishing the foundation between trauma and addiction development.
PTSD and addiction
Individuals who have PTSD and addiction have a co-occurring disorder or a dual diagnosis. While PTSD isn’t limited to individuals with a career in the military, around 35-37% of veterans who have it is known to use drugs and/or alcohol as a form of coping mechanism, leaving them feeling worse as they get deeper into their addiction. Individuals with PTSD may also resort to substances to manage their triggers or symptoms like:
- Social isolation
Depending on the symptom, the patient may try to cure themselves through alcohol and drug abuse. Of course, this method of self-treatment does not work and the individual will develop a tolerance to their substance of choice, thus facilitating the link between trauma and addiction even further.
Anyone with an addiction and a mental health disorder has a dual diagnosis including those with anxiety, depression, or schizophrenia. A treatment facility must be able to address both the addiction cycle and the underlying trauma that led to the development of that addiction to offer the patient the best chance of recovery.
While treating the two conditions simultaneously is crucial to a successful recovery, getting to the underlying trauma can prove quite challenging if the patient is still under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Treating addiction caused by trauma
Comprehensive addiction treatment and therapy begins by detoxifying the patient’s body. This effectively removes the harmful substances from the person whilst recovering in a medically supervised environment. From there, a compassionate team of addiction specialists can focus on behavioural rehabilitation based on the patient’s needs. Ultimately, through trust and collaboration, you can move forward with the traumatic experience and head on to the right path of addiction recovery.
Like we’ve mentioned, the brain is known to adapt well to different situations. As you learn new healthy coping mechanisms, you’ll be able to regain confidence and self-esteem, thus setting yourself up for future success.
While traumatic experiences may be a part of your past, they don’t have to be a part of your future. At Calm Rehab, the leading rehab centre in Bali our trauma therapy program offers individualised treatment to offer you the tools you need to break free of addiction. By treating trauma and addiction at the same time, you can start your journey to recovery and move forward with a renewed perspective.