trauma and substance abuse

How Does Trauma Relate to Substance Abuse?

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Genetics and the environment play a role in substance abuse, but another factor that plays heavily into a future substance use disorder is childhood or adult trauma. Significant events in our past can lay the groundwork for substance abuse disorders in the future, and there is a correlation between substance use and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Whether your trauma was during your childhood or yesterday, it could significantly contribute to a substance abuse disorder through a need to self-medicate.

How Common Is Trauma?

More than two-thirds of children have experienced some form of a traumatic event before the age of 16. Childhood trauma can be in the form of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse or can be external sources that are out of our control, such as natural disasters or war. Memories of the trauma can cause emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, guilt, or shame, and all too often, people might turn to outside substances to try to feel better.

Unfortunately, self-medicating and substance abuse can also create more traumatic events that you may feel the need to cope with by using alcohol or drugs. You can get trapped in a vicious cycle of trauma/substance abuse/trauma.

Alcohol as a Predisposing Factor

One of the most common substances people turn to after a traumatic event is alcohol. Would you believe that up to 80% of Vietnam veterans with PTSD also have an alcohol use disorder? Those over 65 also experience a greater risk for suicidal ideation if they abuse alcohol.

Adolescents are not immune to developing a substance use disorder related to alcohol due to past trauma. Sexual assault victims are 4.5 times more likely to abuse alcohol and nine times more likely to progress to hard drugs such as cocaine or heroin.

Cocaine Use Rises With Trauma

A 2010 study conducted at the Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, showed that other than alcohol, the next most favored substance (besides marijuana) was cocaine. Their study showed a strong connection between trauma in childhood and substance abuse that particularly focused on cocaine in both men and women.

While using alcohol or another drug to self-medicate and ease the pain can create a sensation of relief, the effects are temporary. Substance use disorders hinder the coping mechanisms that can help us deal with trauma in the long run. It can lead to restlessness, insomnia, poor concentration, and relationship or work problems. Adding more stressors and taking away healthy coping mechanisms is a recipe for disaster.

Other Co-Occurring Mental Illnesses

PTSD isn’t the only mental illness that can commonly occur with substance abuse. Anxiety and depression are almost always present in those with substance use disorders, but sometimes mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder, may be present. You might discover other disorders such as borderline personality or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These also need to be treated to gain sobriety over alcohol and other substances successfully.

Treatment should address the substance use disorder, the trauma, and any underlying mental illness issues in order to be successful. The cause of substance abuse needs to be addressed, or the problem will continue.

It’s worth noting that not only can trauma cause co-occurring mental illnesses, but it can cause physical problems as well. People who have experienced trauma are at a greater risk for many chronic problems such as liver disease (cirrhosis), diabetes, pancreatitis, or heart disease. If they are veterans or suffered physical trauma, they may also have physical injuries that cause chronic pain, so treatment may be complicated by pain management.

Treatment for Trauma

Before choosing a rehabilitation center, be sure they can address any trauma in the past, as that is often the root cause behind developing a disorder. This may involve counseling for the trauma itself. Because the trauma led to anxiety or depression, it may also involve antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications to manage the symptoms. If there are mood disorders such as bipolar disorder or ADHD, additional medications may be prescribed specifically for those mental disorders.

If someone suffers from chronic pain, they will need to work with a prescribing doctor who understands pain management alongside substance use disorders. They can explore alternative treatments beyond opioid and narcotic analgesics. There has been some success in treating certain types of pain with NSAIDs, antidepressants, and even seizure medications, depending on whether the pain is based on the bone, nerves, or visceral pain. However, the key to getting–and staying–sober is treating the emotional pain of the trauma. 

All too often, trauma at any stage of life plays a key role in substance use disorders later in life. Whether it’s childhood abuse or adult trauma such as PTSD, a history of traumatic events directly contributes to problems with substance abuse in many cases. To achieve sobriety, one has to treat the trauma to address underlying causes and maintain recovery. Here at Everlast Recovery Centers, we treat both substance use disorders and mental health disorders, such as mood disorders or depression. Not only do we provide detoxification and rehabilitation services, but we can also provide counseling and alternative therapies, such as equine therapy and yoga, at our Riverside, California facility. Once you complete our program, we offer aftercare services to ensure your sobriety and wellness beyond your stay. Get the help you need today. We can help you finally find the sobriety you have been looking for. Call us at (866) 338-6925 to get help today.

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