How Past Trauma Can Trigger an Addiction

At the root of many substance abuse problems is a trauma from the individual’s past. In some cases, the trauma originated in childhood and was so profound that the repercussions have tormented the individual well into adulthood. In other cases, the trauma was more recent — perhaps from a single calamitous event that has shaken the person’s ability to lead a normal life. Or the individual may be carrying the trauma from a destructive relationship that, even after it has ended, continues to produce emotional distress.

In these types of scenarios, many individuals have turned to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to lessen the emotional toll of the trauma. In some cases, they may not even realize the trauma has led to the addiction. For some people, the trauma may have happened so long ago that they don’t recognize a connection to their substance abuse. They may shrug off their use of alcohol or recreational drugs as a lifestyle choice, refusing to acknowledge they have a problem. Those who have suffered a more recent trauma may realize the connection but view drugs or alcohol as the only way to cope with the pain.

The key to dealing with trauma-related addictions is to understand how underlying events have contributed to the problem. Entering a rehab program that provides a dual diagnosis treatment approach offers their best chance for recovery.

The Origins of Trauma

Oftentimes, the past trauma that triggers addiction has occurred in childhood. Childhood is an important time of brain development, and when development is disrupted by negative experiences, children often carry those memories with them — either consciously or subconsciously — into adulthood. The most impactful negative events from childhood include physical or mental abuse and parental neglect, though traumas such as divorce, domestic violence, the death of a parent or sibling, or relentless bullying in school can likewise leave lasting impressions on a young mind.

Related to the trauma, children who lived in a dysfunctional household may have witnessed their parents’ substance abuse problems. They may have learned an unintentional lesson that drugs and alcohol were a normal part of life. Perhaps by adolescence, they were modeling their parents’ behavior, using drugs or alcohol as a solution to a problem or as a mechanism to ease the pain of life’s disappointments.

In adulthood, these lessons may have persisted and triggered addictive behaviors. The same child who witnessed a parent’s drinking may have grown up to assume that alcohol is a way to get through tough times because “that’s what Dad always did.” Any setback in life — an argument with a spouse, a bad day at work, or just a periodic sense of loneliness — may dredge up memories from childhood, and in the most serious traumas of abuse and neglect, that could send the individual spiraling into a substance abuse addiction.

Trauma that occurs in adulthood likewise can trigger addiction. Incidents such as rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, physical assault, the loss of loved one, divorce, or surviving a near-death experience can take its toll on the mental and emotional wellbeing of an individual. If that person had a tendency to drink or use drugs previously, what had been occasional or social usage may devolve into an addiction as a way to ease or blur the pain that is brought on by constant memories of a traumatic event or relationship.

The Need for Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Because there is such a clear connection between past trauma and substance abuse, more and more rehab facilities, including Beachside Rehab, provide dual diagnosis treatment programs that get to the root of the addiction.

The dual diagnosis treatment program begins by diagnosing the person with a substance abuse problem and identifying the underlying trauma that led to this disorder. It is a holistic approach that helps clients come to terms with past trauma that has driven them into addiction. Taking into account the distinct needs of the individual client, Beachside Rehab constructs a personalized treatment program that addresses both the trauma and the substance abuse issues.

In a successful case, individuals accept the reality that substance abuse only masks the true problems that have disrupted their lives. While it’s painful to face the trauma that has fueled their addiction, having the courage to tackle the unresolved issues underlying their mental and emotional pain is the key to their recovery.

Beachside Rehab’s dual diagnosis treatment program offers a holistic approach that addresses your addiction and the underlying mental health issues that have caused it. Contact our trained admissions counselors at 866-349-1770 to discuss how we can create a personalized treatment program tailored to your needs.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash