The Unfortunate Connection | Trauma and Addiction

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

Dr. Norris Von Curl, II, MD

Trauma can be defined as an experience where a person has seen or been confronted with death, serious injury, or the possibility or physical danger. Trauma involves events that pose significant threat (physical, emotional, or psychological) to the safety of the victim or loved ones/friends and are overwhelming and shocking. The unfortunate reality of trauma is that once a person has experienced something of this nature, the likelihood of addiction (or substance use disorder) grows significantly.

To help broaden the idea of trauma, take a look at the American Psychiatric Association’s definition of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD): “A person must have experienced or witnessed an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others, and which involved fear, helplessness, or horror.”

People who have gone through something of this nature in their lives now have a deep need to find safety and some amount of control. Both of those feelings are available in chemical substances, so it makes sense that a person living with trauma would turn to drugs or alcohol. It is not their fault; In fact, their brains have actually changed to continue pushing them toward their addiction.

Matter of Biology

Biology and genetics are a very important part of brain development, but the brain also possesses a natural ability to adjust to environmental stimuli. This is defined as plasticity. There is a network of neurons spread throughout the brain responsible for the functions between neural connections. Depending on the experience, connections between neurons may develop, get stronger, weaker, or break. Negative experiences that cause stress, especially high levels for prolonged periods of time, disrupt normal brain development.

The continuous stress causes physiological responses, which over time will cause structural disruptions. Physicians are able to detect evidence of this in neurological scans. Incidents of child abuse, losing a parent, neglect, witnessing any kind of violence or continual exposure to dangerous situations.

These experiences actually cause cognitive damage, and in so doing they make people more susceptible to substance abuse. The use of drugs and/or alcohol is an attempt to self-medicate to ease or dull the pain and any lingering effects.

High Risk

Survivors of damaging experiences are at a higher risk of addiction. If believe you or a loved one are in danger of possible substance abuse, recognizing the problem is the first step. Your next step is to reach out for help. Alcohol and drug addiction cause hardship, adversity, and pain. When you add trauma to the equation, life can often seem unbearable. With all of these things combined, it’s important to treat everything in conjunction. They are intimately connected.

The biggest issue with trauma and addiction is that you cannot heal one without confronting the other. Basically, if you simply try to recover from an addiction and let the fear and pain of the trauma remain to fester, you will only find frustration and failure. The fear, stress, and emotional anguish of your past are the driving force for your addiction today.

But in a similar way your brain was changed with the original traumatic experience, you can change it again. That is the beauty of neuroplasticity. Recovery is always possible.

Back Into Life

At First Steps, our goal is to make recovery from addiction a comfortable and smooth transition back to sobriety while helping individuals develop healthy habits and lifestyles. Having a safe, serene environment in which to focus on rehabilitation is an essential part of the recovery process for a person who has gone through trauma. Our team is ready to help you confront your past as well as your present.

Trauma is a common and tragic ingredient in substance use disorder. If you are struggling, it is vital for you to get help in understanding and confronting the underlying issues that drive your addiction as well as confront the addiction itself. Please call us at First Steps today: 844-489-0836 and we will make sure to find the right treatment for what you have gone through in the past and give you hope for a future.

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