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Understanding The Link Between Trauma and Addiction

Trauma refers to a distressing or disturbing experience that overwhelms a person's ability to cope. Trauma and addiction are closely tied.

Trauma is an emotional response to a distressing event or experience. Addiction is a compulsive behavior characterized by needing a substance or activity to produce pleasure or relief.

Many individuals with a history of trauma develop conditions such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). To cope with these disorders, they start taking alcohol and drugs. With time, it becomes a severe addiction that badly affects mental health.

Psychotherapy, medication, residential treatment, and support groups can help a person return to everyday life.

Key Takeaways

Trauma and addiction are two issues that often go hand in hand. Trauma and addiction both impact a person’s mental health. You’ll find the following in this article:  

  • Trauma refers to a distressing or disturbing experience that overwhelms a person’s ability to cope.
  • When a person experiences emotional pain, they may turn to drugs, alcohol, or other addictive behaviors to cope with their emotions.
  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy, EMDR, meditation, and detox can help eliminate co-occurring addiction and mental health disorders.

Get reliable support from The Haven Detox-New England. Contact us at (844) 933-4145 to learn more about our treatment programs and service charges.

What Is Trauma?

American Psychological Association defines trauma as an emotional response to a catastrophic occurrence like an accident, rape, child abuse, domestic violence, witnessing violence, loss, a near-death experience, or even a natural disaster. 

Trauma and addiction can both have a profound impact on a person’s mental health. Trauma causes the release of harmful stress hormones in the brain, which over time, harms the brain. Long-term stress can cause the brain to change, affecting behavior and emotions. 

Signs of Trauma

There are several different signs of trauma. All these symptoms and signs are completely normal when someone faces such adverse events or circumstances.

 Physical Signs

Some physical signs of trauma are as follows:

  • Insomnia
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Easily scared
  • Troubles focusing
  • Nightmares
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Agitation or always being on edge
  • Body aches and pains
  • Muscle tension

Behavioral Signs

On top of physical signs, people might show behavioral symptoms or signs, too. They are:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Mood swings
  • Confusion
  • Trouble focusing
  • Guilt or shame
  • Blaming yourself
  • Disbelief or shock
  • Withdrawal
  • Isolating
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Feelings of being numb

Types of Trauma

Multiple types of traumatic events can happen in a person’s life. Each one can affect a person differently, so it is important not to assume that one person will react the same way to trauma as another person.

There are different types of trauma, including.

Physical Assault

It is a physical attack when someone is physically hit or beaten up. The perpetrator can be a stranger or someone the victim knows.

Sexual Assault

A sexual assault occurs when a person is molested or raped. Sexual assault is one of the leading causes of trauma among women.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a type of violence that occurs when someone is attacked inside the home. Trauma from domestic violence can occur when a person experiences or witnesses violence in the home.

Emotional Abuse

When someone tries to manipulate another person by criticizing, embarrassing, shaming, or blaming them using their emotions, that behavior is known as emotional abuse.

Parental Neglect

Parental neglect can happen when a parent fails to give their child the resources they require for survival or development. It can be inadequate food, unsanitary living quarters, or physical, psychological, or sexual abuse.


Another extremely typical kind of unpleasant encounter is bullying. It frequently causes problems that last until adulthood. Bullying can have negative effects regardless of how big or minor the event is.

Natural Disasters

Those who experience natural catastrophes may lose their homes, loved ones, or daily routines. These events may result in PTSD or other upsetting events. Additionally, if a child experiences a natural disaster with significant effects, they may suffer trauma. For example, experiencing wildfires, earthquakes, hurricanes, or tornadoes can cause childhood trauma.


Accidental injuries, including those sustained in vehicle accidents, at work, or in other situations, can be extremely upsetting. 

It holds for those not directly involved in the collision but familiar with the injured party. Accidents frequently cause severe PTSD and flashbacks.


Dealing with a chronic or prolonged disease can be traumatizing. Years after the onset of the illness, experiencing its symptoms may result in flashbacks or disturbing feelings.

How Trauma Leads to Addiction

Traumatic experiences can cause intense emotional pain and distress. When a person experiences trauma, it can trigger changes in the brain’s chemistry that can affect their behavior, mood, and overall mental health.

According to the self-medication theory of substance abuse, people who struggle with substance abuse do so to cope with the stress brought on by traumatic stress symptoms and the impacts of trauma exposure. 

Young people use alcohol and other drugs to numb themselves from adverse childhood experiences or to cope with the flood of strong emotions and painful memories linked to traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

These substances and behaviors can provide temporary relief from the pain, but they can also create a cycle of addiction that can be difficult to break.

Addiction can also lead to trauma. Substance abuse can increase the risk of experiencing traumatic events, such as violence or accidents.

Individuals who are addicted to alcohol and drugs may engage in risky behaviors, such as driving under the influence, which can increase their risk of being in an accident. Addiction can also cause problems in relationships, work, and other areas of life, leading to shame, guilt, and low self-esteem.

Substance abuse can also lead to domestic violence, sexual assault, or other types of violence that can cause trauma.  

Symptoms of Addiction  

Addiction to drugs, including heroin, cocaine, and opioids, can be highly devastating for the person struggling and those around them. If you notice any of these signs, having a loving conversation with the person or seeking help could be very beneficial.

Physical Symptoms 

There are several physical symptoms you will notice. They include:

  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Craving the substance
  • Seizures or trembling
  • Excessive sweating
  • Violent behavior
  • Sudden appetite changes
  • Bodily damage
  • Insomnia

Behavioral Symptoms

People might also have several behavioral signs of struggling with substance use disorder. They are:

  • Giving up things that they previously enjoyed
  • Sacrificing relationships and activities
  • Obsession with having the substance
  • Isolation
  • Secrecy
  • Denial of the issue
  • Excessive consumption
  • Stashing away the substance
  • Financial troubles
  • Legal troubles
  • Continued use after health issues
  • Obsession
  • Unnecessary risk-taking

Treating Trauma and Addiction

Although treating trauma and addiction might be difficult, numerous efficient treatments are available. 

Therapy can assist patients in locating and comprehending the underlying reasons for their trauma and addiction, as well as developing appropriate coping mechanisms for managing their emotions.


Detox is the process of removing a substance from the body. Because withdrawal effects, such as an elevated heart rate, can be highly harmful and even deadly, detoxification should be done under medical supervision.

Doctors may gradually reduce the dose over time to control the side effects of some drugs. Someone you care about who is battling with addiction should seek help from a treatment center so they can go through detox in a secure setting and under medical supervision.

Inpatient Treatment Program

Inpatient treatment may be necessary to address addiction and trauma. Inpatient treatment allows people to focus on their recovery in a supportive environment, away from the stressors of everyday life.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one type of therapy often used to treat trauma and addiction.

CBT focuses on discovering and changing negative thoughts and behaviors that can contribute to addiction and trauma. CBT can help people to develop positive coping strategies, such as mindfulness and relaxation techniques, to help them manage their emotions and cravings.


The psychotherapy technique known as EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, was created to lessen the distress brought on by traumatic memories.

A patient undergoing EMDR will briefly recall traumatic events while concentrating on an outside object or stimulus. This therapy could include hand-tapping, music, or a variety of other activities.

This type of therapy seeks to reduce emotional distress while forming new associations and connections that will lead to a more thorough development of memory and learning. 


Addiction to different drugs like heroin, cocaine, and alcohol and trauma can both be treated with medication. The symptoms of sadness and anxiety, which can be prevalent in people who have endured trauma or are battling addiction, can be reduced with the aid of antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs.

Support Groups 

Support groups help treat childhood trauma and addiction. Support groups allow people to meet with people from all over the world and learn coping techniques they utilized in their journey from addiction and the effects of trauma. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How does trauma lead to addiction?

Trauma can have a significant impact on a person’s mental and emotional well-being, and it can increase their risk of developing an addiction.
Trauma can lead to addiction in several ways:
Self-Medication: Trauma can cause significant emotional pain and distress, which some individuals may try to alleviate by using drugs or alcohol. Self-medication can temporarily relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues associated with trauma, but it can also lead to the development of addiction.
Coping Mechanism: Substance use can also become a coping mechanism for dealing with the stress and emotional pain associated with trauma. For some individuals, addiction may develop as a way to manage their trauma-related symptoms and feel a sense of control.
Neurological Changes: Trauma can also cause neurological changes in the brain, increasing the risk of addiction. Trauma can alter the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, creating a greater desire for substances that activate those brain areas.

Can emotional trauma induce drug abuse and addiction?

Emotional trauma can be a significant risk factor for drug abuse and addiction. Traumatic experiences like physical or emotional abuse, neglect, sexual assault, or the sudden loss of a loved one can be overwhelming and difficult to cope with.
These experiences can lead individuals to turn to drugs or alcohol as a means of self-medicating, numbing the emotional pain, and escaping reality.
Studies have shown that trauma can alter how the brain functions, leading to changes in the reward system, stress response, and impulse control. These changes can make individuals more vulnerable to addiction and make it harder to quit using drugs or alcohol once they start.
Furthermore, people with a history of trauma may also be more likely to experience mental health disorders such as depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can enhance the risk of addiction.

Should trauma or trauma-related addiction be treated first?

It is often best to address trauma and trauma-related addiction simultaneously in therapy, as they can be closely intertwined and have a significant impact on each other.
Addressing the effects of childhood trauma is essential because it can be the root cause of addiction. Untreated trauma can lead to a higher risk of relapse. 
Furthermore, untreated trauma can lead to symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD, which can increase the severity of the addiction.
However, treating addiction is also essential because it can interfere with an individual’s ability to cope with their trauma and can contribute to ongoing psychological distress. 
Additionally, addiction can cause significant harm to an individual’s physical, emotional, and social well-being, making it important to address it as soon as possible.

Find Reliable Dual Diagnosis Help at Haven Detox-New England

Trauma can lead a person to substance use disorder if overlooked. The Haven Detox-New England is here to assist you in getting back to a healthy and happier life.

We offer effective co-occurring treatment programs, including detox and residential addiction care to help people get back to life. Our residential treatment facility allows our patients to learn advanced skills from our highly skilled psychologists to deal with negative emotions, stress, and low self-esteem. 

Furthermore, our customer support is available 24/7 to answer our clients’ concerns. They guide you through the admission process.

Call (844) 933-4145 to learn more about our treatment program and service charges.

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