There are many possible catalysts for drug or alcohol addiction. The risk factors for substance use disorder include genetic predisposition, co-occurring mental health issues, unresolved, negative emotions, and past trauma among many other things. If you’ve lived through a traumatic event and haven’t sought counseling for any lingering anxiety or pain you feel, you have a higher likelihood of struggling with substance abuse. If you’ve been using drugs or alcohol heavily, trying to abstain without the benefit of treatment isn’t the best course of action. Although abstinence is an important part of the recovery process, it’s equally vital to address the underlying causes of addiction.
Many people who’ve lived through traumatic experiences develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This causes them to avoid social settings, people, and other triggers that remind them of their trauma. They may suffer from terrifying nightmares and flashbacks, or they may struggle with hypervigilance that makes them easily uncomfortable and easily startled. People with untreated PTSD often turn to drugs or alcohol as a means for alleviating their symptoms. Unfortunately, however, self-treating PTSD and other signs of past trauma with drugs or alcohol isn’t sustainable. Worse still, self-medicating any mental health issue can actually exacerbate and enhance the very symptoms you’re trying to mute.
How Trauma Sets the Stage for Addiction
Traumatic experiences can leave people feeling unstable, unsure, and uncomfortable virtually everywhere they go. This is especially true when a person’s traumatic experiences are prolonged or repeated such as with:
- Childhood neglect and childhood abuse
- Domestic violence
- Being active duty during wartime
Repressed trauma and recurring bouts of anxiety can also make it hard to connect with, relate to, or establish meaningful bonds with others. Thus, trauma can also leave people feeling incredibly lonely and prone to spending long periods of time in isolation. Depression, feelings of low self-worth, and even suicidal thoughts can develop as well.
Living with painful emotions and having no natural, sustainable ways to deal with them leaves people desperate for solutions. Drinking alcohol triggers the release of “feel good” chemicals in the brain. These are known as neurotransmitters and they’re responsible for the elation and intense euphoria that people often experience when intoxicated. This is also true with many substances. Whether abusing prescription pills or using illicit drugs to “take the edge off”, people with unresolved and untreated trauma are essentially tampering with their brain chemistry.
Over time, artificially triggering “feel good” chemicals to obtain a sense of peace stops working. More drugs or alcohol are often needed to achieve the same relief. As tolerance is increasingly built, people who started using drugs or alcohol in a recreational capacity can proceed to regular or everyday use, and then outright abuse. Prolonged drug or alcohol abuse creates chemical conditions within the brain that make it impossible to stop using outright without experiencing painful and often overwhelming withdrawal symptoms. When this stage is reached, this is known as full-blown addiction.
In drug and alcohol rehab, patients learn more about the different ways in which trauma sets the stage for addiction. They’re also able to:
- Increase their distress tolerance
- Develop healthy coping skills
- Learn evidence-based stress management techniques
- Work through painful and repressed emotions
- Practice boundary-setting
- Get treatment for co-occurring mental health issues
- Establish long-term support plans for relapse prevention
When trauma is an underlying cause for addiction, addressing it at its source greatly minimizes the risk of relapse. When trauma has caused PTSD, having this disorder professionally treated is essential for ensuring long-term success in recovery. When people have effective and sustainable ways for managing or alleviating their emotional discomfort, they’re far less likely to reach for drugs or alcohol when feeling overwhelmed.
Rehab programs also teach patients strategies for avoiding and minimizing stress. Many programs include life skills development, goal-setting assistance, general life-planning, and more. This way, common risk factors for relapse such as joblessness, financial stress, and homelessness are mitigated as well. If you’ve been living with the pain of past trauma and want the best and most needs-specific program for fighting your drug or alcohol addiction, we’re here to help you find it. Call us today at 855-334-6120 to get started.