The Connection Between Trauma and Substance Abuse

Published On: June 20, 2023Categories: Co-Occurring Disorders, Trauma

One of the most common responses to trauma is to emotionally and mentally shut down.

The intensity and significance of the event can take a serious toll on our bodies and our minds, and sometimes our self-soothing mechanism in these instances is to avoid facing it. We think we’re shielding ourselves from suffering or delaying the difficulties that come with moving forwards, but we’re really only extending and amplifying our pain the longer it goes unhealed.


One of the most common crutches people turn to in order to help distract or numb themselves more effectively is substances.


In this article, we’re going to dive into how trauma can lead one to develop a substance use disorder, and we’re also going to look at the different short- and long-term effects that most commonly result.


What is trauma?


Trauma is a disturbing event (singular or recurring) that has a lasting, negative effect on your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being. 


While there are some universal situations that most people would agree are traumatic (such as the sudden death of a loved one), others are more subjective. It’s important to recognize different people respond to events differently. 


Trauma does, however, change a person. Regardless of whether the trauma occurred in your childhood, your teenage years or in full-fledged adulthood, and regardless of how severe it may or may not feel. Those traumatic events alter how we see ourselves, others and the world in some way.


It’s not uncommon for people who’ve experienced trauma to abuse drugs and alcohol. Trauma can be intense, overwhelming and crippling, and it can wreak havoc on our overall well-being as we attempt to manage it without professional intervention or help.


Many people begin self-medicating after a traumatic event as a form of relief, usually just a brief break from the reality of the situation these forms of self-medication can turn into substance use disorders.


Trauma and addiction


There are many different types of trauma, but some of the most common kinds are:

  • Sexual assault
  • Domestic violence
  • Natural disasters
  • Terminal illnesses
  • Accidents (like car crashes)
  • Parental abuse (whether in the form of neglect, physical, verbal or emotional abuse)


The effects of trauma on behavior are vast. It doesn’t just affect a person in one way, it causes various mental and emotional disturbances, a variety of health issues (including chronic conditions) and more. 


Sometimes, several of these disorders or conditions are present at the same time in a person, making their already-painful circumstances all the more difficult to navigate. This is known as co-occurring disorders, otherwise referred to as dual-diagnosis.


What are co-occurring disorders?


Co-occurring disorders are when an individual is experiencing multiple mental or physical conditions simultaneously. Most commonly, “co-occurring disorders” will be used to describe someone who’s specifically suffering from a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder (addiction).


Unfortunately, though you might experience temporary alleviation or distraction from your pain due to the intoxicating effects of drugs or alcohol, it’s not a substitute for healing. Avoiding, postponing or rejecting the experience is not going to make moving forward easier; it’s only going to cause the trauma to continue to manifest in your life in new and unhealthy ways.


If you think you or someone you love might be struggling with a substance use disorder, especially one that developed after a traumatic experience, know that healing is possible, and you’re not going to work through it alone.


Receive guidance today


Here at Tapestry, our mission is to help you achieve mental balance and restoration, as well as find sustainable freedom from any substance use disorders that are holding you captive.


For adolescents, adults and families, we provide comprehensive, trauma-focused healthcare that’s designed to not only help you recover in the short term but maintain the knowledge and tools for how to handle life’s challenges in the future.


Our evolved and multifaceted approach to healthcare has enabled us to help individuals work through not only their various trauma but other challenges as well, including mental illnesses and eating disorders.


To learn more about how we can support you on your journey toward healing, send us a message or call us today.

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