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Trauma & Addiction

Not only can trauma be healed, but with appropriate guidance and support, it can be transformative.

Trauma (including PTSD) is a distinct psychological disorder diagnosed on a case-by-case basis. Trauma is not actually an event or circumstance, but rather the individual’s reaction. Two people can have the same exposure while only one experiences trauma.

Without treatment, trauma can have a huge influence on a person’s life and psyche, commonly leading to substance abuse.

The Cycle of Trauma & Addiction

Traumatic memories get locked in the limbic system of the brain and become triggers for substance use later in life. Drugs and alcohol are used to medicate the feelings, while the isolating consequences of addiction further worsen the psychological damage of the trauma.

Trauma survivors also commonly create a cycle of reliving traumatic experiences by pursuing new dysfunctional relationships, which leads to further psychological damage, including increased drug use.

Over 54% of people seeking addiction treatment have a history of physical, emotional and/or sexual trauma. The combination is also linked to a higher risk of anxiety disorders, depression and suicide.

Not only can trauma be healed, but with appropriate guidance and support, it can be transformative.

Treatment

Many people who have experienced trauma turn to substance abuse as a way to cope with the pain. Drugs and alcohol make a user feel numbed, empowered or calm. Therefore, recovery is not possible without fully treating the trauma and developing healthier coping skills.

Hyperarousal, intrusive reliving, numbing and dissociation can all get in the way of separating current reality and from past trauma.

The goal of treating trauma is to help sufferers live in the present, without feeling or behaving according to irrelevant demands belonging to the past. This means that traumatic experiences need to be located in time and place and distinguished from current reality.

Examples of Trauma Therapy

  • Mindfulness
  • Grief & Loss
  • Somatic Experiencing
  • Breath Work
  • Meditation
  • Psychodrama
  • Ceremonial
  • Role Play
  • 12-Step
  • Our clinical trauma team understands the vulnerabilities of addicted trauma survivors to provide care in ways that avoid re-traumatization, while facilitating full participation in treatment. All of Ambrosia’s drug treatment centers in Florida and California offer trauma-specific care. For more information, contact the 24/7 help hotline at: (888) 492-1633.
    Overcoming Trauma Rehab Reviews Highest Rated
    7.5K+ Clients Helped
    Ambrosia Treatment Center
    4.5 7500
    Ambrosia Treatment Center
    Erica D.
    Treatment Center

    I felt shame and guilt for most of my life like I was broken. I couldn’t love myself and I couldn’t imagine how anyone could love me. To mask the pain when I got older, I turned to alcohol and drugs to numb myself physically and emotionally. In some ways, I knew it wasn’t right. But I couldn’t help myself. The pain was too much. I didn’t want to face it.

    During treatment, I was ‘opened’ in a way that got to the core of my very essence. I’m now aware of myself and able to recognize when I’m feeling triggered. This takes me from being reactive to being able to stop the situation before reaching for the pills. That’s been a huge change for me.

    June 1
    5 5
    Ambrosia Treatment Center
    4.5 7500
    Ambrosia Treatment Center
    John R.
    Treatment Center

    Through my traumatic experience, I have gained wisdom and knowledge about life. I have learned to spend my time on things of high value. I have learned to be more compassionate. I was able to navigate my most complex issues and traumas and end up in a place of healing and resolution that I never thought was possible.

    May 19
    5 5

    Trauma & Addiction FAQ's

    1. Get Active
    a. Trauma disrupts the body’s natural equilibrium, meaning that you can become paralyzed by fear and anxiety. Exercise and movement can help your nervous system become unstuck while burning off adrenaline and releasing endorphins.
    b. Instead of focusing on your thoughts, use distraction therapy through exercise to focus on your body as you move.
    c. Visit nature centers and enjoy the adventure. Getting connected with nature is an antidepressant in itself.
    2. Don’t Isolate
    a. Isolation makes things worse. Connecting with others will help you heal so make an effort to maintain your relationships and avoid spending too much time alone.
    b. Ask for support. You don’t have to talk about the trauma itself to relate to someone, but it is important to find someone you trust and can have meaningful conversations with.
    c. Participate in social activities. Go to the gym, the baseball field, the arcade, or even out to dinner with someone.
    d. Volunteer. Volunteering can have its reward. By giving back to someone else, you are also helping yourself in the process.
    e. Make new friends. In old situations, your friends may have been negative influences. In early recovery, it is especially important to surround yourself with people who have a strong sobriety as well as a strong network of others who are willing to help.
    3. Take Care of Your Health
    a. Sleep. After a traumatic experience, worry or fear may disrupt your sleep patterns. A lack of sleep can make your trauma symptoms worse. Go to sleep and get up at the same time each day and aim for 8 hours of sleep each night.
    b. Avoid alcohol and drugs. Alcohol and drugs can exponentially increase trauma symptoms of depression, anxiety, and isolation.
    c. Eat a well-balanced diet. Avoid sugarily and fried foods. Eat the rainbow of fruits and vegetables.
    d. Reduce stress. Try relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, or deep-breathing exercises. Make time for your hobbies.
    4. Seek Professional Help
    a. Healing work is best done with the help of an experienced trauma specialist. Finding the right therapist and individual treatment plan can help alleviate symptoms of trauma and lead you to a healthier lifestyle.
    b. To heal from psychological and emotional trauma, the pain and memories must be resolved. A treatment plan typically involves:

    • Processing trauma-related memories and feelings
    • Discharging pent-up negative energy
    • Learning how to regulate strong emotions
    • c. If you are the family of the loved one seeking help, it can be difficult to help your loved one who’s suffering from trauma, but a support network is a key factor in their recovery.

      • Be patient and understanding. Healing takes time.
      • Offer support until your loved one can get back into a healthy, functioning routine.
      • Don’t pressure your loved one into talking about the trauma. Allow your loved one to know you are there to support them in their own time.
      • Help your loved one socialize. Encourage them to participate in exercise and regular activities. Help them pursue their hobbies and enjoy the freedom from trauma and addiction.

    Although there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way in reacting to trauma, there is a wide range of physical and emotional symptoms you should be on the lookout for after experiencing a traumatic event. Symptoms may last from a few days to a few months.
    Emotional and Psychological Symptoms of Trauma:

    • Shock, denial, or disbelief
    • Anger, irritability, mood swings
    • Guilt, shame, self-blame
    • Feeling hopeless
    • Confusion, difficulty concentrating
    • Anxiety and fear
    • Withdrawing from others
    • Feeling disconnected or numb

    Physical Symptoms of Trauma:

    • Insomnia or nightmares
    • Being startled easily
    • Racing heartbeat
    • Aches and pains
    • Fatigue
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Agitation
    • Muscle tension

    In the 21st century, it is much easier to see how trauma and addiction relate due to scientific advances. Similar research linking trauma and addiction exists for habitual behaviors, such as drug abuse and eating disorders. Addiction is part of an extended post-trauma coping mechanism.

    • The amygdala (the brain’s threat detection center) can become overactive, engaging in a constant program of looking for, seeing and assessing threat. This will cause you to feel intensely anxious, vulnerable and fearful.
    • The hippocampus (the brain’s center for processing memories) can become underactive. Rather than consolidating and then placing memories in the outer layer of the brain for long-term storage, memories get hung up in a present-day loop. You will experience and re-experience intrusive, disturbing and uncomfortable recollections.
    • The cortex (the brain’s center for executive control) becomes interrupted by survival-oriented instincts from deep inside your inner brain. These instincts overrule logical thinking, diminish cognitive processing and decrease your ability to inhibit behavior. Even when you try to refrain from the addictive behavior, you will experience an unstoppable urge to engage in it.

    A person might suffer more greatly from psychological trauma if they have demonstrably abnormalities or disturbances in the brain. Some questions to ask yourself:

  • What was happening back in those days, weeks, months or years prior to when your addiction began?
  • Did you experience an event that was uncomfortable?
  • Did you survive a moment that overwhelmed your ability to cope?
  • Did you live through an experience that changed your perception of the world?
  • Some examples of trauma survivors have endured:

    • Domestic violence
    • Rape and sexual assault/abuse
    • Physical assault
    • Random violent acts in public settings (at work, school, etc.)
    • Car accidents
    • Natural disasters
    • Major catastrophic event (terrorist attack, plane crash, etc.)

    Common groups who experience intense trauma include:

    • Combat veterans or civilian victims of war
    • Those diagnosed with a life-threatening illness or who have had major medical procedures
    • Emergency professionals (medical, police, and military)
    • Those who experienced sudden, unexpected death of a close friend or relative

    Did You Know?

    • A person is more likely to experience drug addiction if members of their family are addicted to drugs.
    • Friends who are addicted to drugs can also increase a person’s susceptibility to drug addiction because friends can be highly influential.
    • Male and female sexual abuse survivors experience a higher rate of alcohol and drug use disorders compared to those who have not experienced abuse.

    There is significance in identifying past experiences because research proves that trauma can activate survival-oriented behaviors that lead to addiction.

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