Exploring the Connection between Trauma and Addiction

Substance Abuse – Exploring the Connection between Trauma and Addiction

Addiction is a brain disorder. A person with addiction often has a co-occurring mental disorder such as post-traumatic stress disorder. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) released data from a survey in 2014 that showed as many as 7.9 million people in American had an addiction coupled with another mental disorder in that year. With trauma and addiction statistics such as these, it is clear that exploring the connection between trauma and addiction can be beneficial to recovery.

Trauma and Addiction Statistics

Based on the findings in the report created by the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, the following data was revealed:

  • Illness, accidents and surviving natural disaster create an increase in alcohol abuse of about 10 to 33 percent.
  • Between 25 and 75 percent of violent trauma survivors go on to abuse alcohol and other substances.
  • A person who has a PTSD diagnosis is at greater risk of developing alcoholism.
  • Both female and male survivors of sexual abuse have a higher rate of drug and alcohol abuse.

These statistics show a clear connection between trauma and addiction when there is a lack of treatment for the trauma.

The Connection between Trauma and Addiction

People who have experienced trauma in their life often deal with severe symptoms that can cause problems in their life. People who have been through trauma often experience the following:

  • Confusion
  • Emotional pain
  • Feelings of powerlessness and helplessness
  • Betrayal
  • Feelings of loss
  • Entrapment
  • Feelings of terror
  • Avoidance
  • Depression and fear
  • Panic and anxiety

Due to these often overwhelming feelings, people try to find an escape. When there is lack of treatment for the symptoms, drug and alcohol abuse is turned to in order to self-medicate the symptoms. Alcohol can help a person to reduce anxiety and forgot about their problems for a short time. Other drugs may also make a person feel empowered, calm or numb to their symptoms.

Since the symptoms of the trauma do not pass by themselves, the person begins to continuously use alcohol or drugs in order to deal with their symptoms. The excessive and frequent of alcohol or drugs, in turn, leads to an addiction or dependence. As a person becomes addicted to drugs or alcohol, their symptoms of trauma can worsen due to the negative effects of addiction, such as the withdrawal symptoms of drug and alcohol abuse. The spiraling situation can become altogether too much to handle unless professional help is sought.

The Link between Childhood Trauma and Addiction

During a child’s developmental stages, the brain is constantly creating and reinforcing synaptic connections. It may also discard some connections entirely. This entire process is known as the plasticity of a brain.

The link between childhood trauma and addiction comes from how a trauma can affect the development of a child’s brain. The experiences as a child has shaped their brain and trauma can create negative synaptic connections in the brain, leading to a lifelong struggle with trauma symptoms.

The structural disruptions caused by the trauma can create a higher risk of becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol, as is the case in most PTSD and addiction causes.

Dual Diagnosis

Dual diagnosis is a way for a rehab facility to help those who suffer from co-occurring mental disorders such as PTSD or trauma and addiction. It deals with each condition as a separate illness, treating each independently. It is only through treating each disorder that long-term recovery is possible. The risk of relapse is high if only the addiction or the PTSD was treated.

The connection between trauma and addiction explains why so many people who suffer from PTSD turn to alcohol or drugs as a solution to their problems. Find long-term help for co-occurring mental disorders by contacting WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470.




If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.

About the Author

is a proud alumni member of WhiteSands Treatment. After living a life of chaos, destruction and constant let downs, Mark was able to make a complete turnaround that sparked a new way of life. He is serious about his recovery along with helping others. At WhiteSands Treatment, we offer support to you in your homes or when you are out living in your daily lives.