How Can Trauma Cause Addiction?

How Can Trauma Cause Addiction_

Many people with substance use disorder also struggle with past trauma. Trauma is more than just an unpleasant experience. Whether it’s a childhood incident or something you encountered in adulthood, these traumatic events change how you perceive yourself and the world. As a result of these events, some people turn to substances to try to self-medicate the uncomfortable feelings associated with trauma, resulting in an addictive cycle. 

If you or someone you know struggles with unresolved trauma and addiction, know that help is available. You can find hope and healing and overcome the cycle of addiction. Learn about the link between trauma and addiction and how professionals can help. 

Types of Trauma 

Trauma is an event or series of circumstances that have lasting effects on your mental, emotional, physical and social well-being. Trauma causes immense stress levels because your mind and body view the event as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening. 

Stress triggers the release of adrenaline and cortisol — the same hormones released when your body is in fight-or-flight mode. While valuable in an emergency, high concentrations of these chemicals can become harmful, and your body will no longer understand the difference between an emergency and remembering a traumatic event. 

Common types of traumatic events that have a lasting effect on a person include: 

  • Physical assault 
  • Sexual assault 
  • Parental neglect 
  • Rape 
  • Emotional or verbal abuse 
  • Domestic violence 
  • Bullying or ongoing harassment 
  • Natural disasters 
  • Accidents, like car crashes or fire 
  • Terminal illness 

The above are a few examples of traumatic experiences. However, any situation where you feel that your life is in danger can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Signs of Trauma 

People who experience trauma display various side effects, from psychological symptoms to behavioral ones. Often, the mind attempts to cope with trauma by covering it, yet the signs can still come out. 

Trauma can manifest in the following ways: 

  • Mood swings 
  • Unpredictable or erratic behavior 
  • Ongoing nervousness, fear or anxiety 
  • Agitation and irritability 
  • Insecurities or lowered confidence 
  • Feeling emotionally numb 
  • Self-destructive behavior 
  • Exorbitant or inappropriate emotional displays 
  • Avoiding places or things that remind you of your traumatic experience 
  • Eating disorders 
  • Reliving the event in your mind 
  • Difficulties maintaining close relationships 

It’s important to note that trauma can cause addiction. 

The Connection Between Trauma and Addiction 

PTSD and substance use disorder often co-occur, with 46.4% of individuals with PTSD also meeting the criteria for substance use disorder. Traumatic experiences in early childhood can put people at risk of developing substance use problems. 

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events that occur in childhood. These can include violence, abuse and growing up in a family with substance use or mental health issues. Survivors of childhood trauma experience physical and emotional issues that follow into adulthood, with many developing substance use disorders. People who experience childhood trauma can be up to 10 times likelier to report a drug addiction. 

Often, people who experience trauma develop PTSD and experience distressful symptoms. People with a history of trauma might be more vulnerable to addiction as a means of regulating their mood and quieting intrusive thoughts. They may feel drugs or alcohol can mask or distract them from their troubling thoughts and feelings. 

Trauma and chronic stress can also lead to a dysregulated stress system, making individuals more vulnerable to addictive behaviors. Trauma can lead to depersonalization or numbness, which might make people more prone to misuse stimulant drugs. At the same time, trauma can cause hyperarousal and anxiety, which people may attempt to mask with alcohol, opioids or other drugs with calming, intoxication effects. 

While certain substances might initially relieve PTSD symptoms, over time, they can intensify these distressful symptoms and lead to an addictive cycle that can be difficult to escape. 

How to Treat Trauma and Addiction 

Trauma and addiction recovery treatment addresses addiction’s medical and behavioral aspects while targeting the trauma-related triggers that sustain it. While each person’s treatment needs will vary depending on the level of trauma and addiction, addressing both conditions is beneficial for successfully managing stress and sustaining recovery. Severe cases of substance use disorder might require inpatient treatment, while those with a limited history may benefit from intensive outpatient care. 

A comprehensive treatment plan can begin with medically supervised detoxification, followed by behavioral therapies and support groups. The process of treating unresolved trauma and addiction is as follows: 

Detox and Withdrawal Management 

Medical detox provides a safe and supportive environment to help clients heal from withdrawal symptoms and receive help for medical issues that may arise during the process. Medically supervised detox can get clients started on their recovery journey safely and comfortably, helping them focus on treatment. 

Behavioral Therapy 

Behavioral therapy can help clients work with a trained mental health professional to address the causes of their trauma and their addiction triggers. Through individualized counseling and trauma therapies like cognitive behavioral and dialectical behavioral therapies or emotional processing, clients can learn to process trauma healthily, recognize triggers and manage stress in their everyday lives. 

Holistic Treatments 

These alternative treatment methods focus on the whole person, centering in on the mind and soul. Holistic therapy approaches might include meditation, yoga and nutrition therapy. Another holistic treatment option is art therapy, where clients use their creativity to work through traumas and other feelings in a safe space. 

Support Groups 

Support groups provide a safe, supportive space for you to discuss traumas and addiction with people in similar circumstances. You’ll learn sobriety tips and lend an ear to others experiencing similar troubles. The relationships made in inpatient care are often beneficial for recovery and can become an ongoing support network for clients following treatment. 


After completing a professional treatment program, you’ll be set up with a comprehensive and targeted aftercare plan to sustain your sobriety and address PTSD symptoms. These programs will build on your progress in treatment and provide resources for addiction and trauma specialists in your area who you can confide in for ongoing therapy. 

Get Treatment for Trauma and Addiction at Crest View Recovery Center  

Many people enter addiction treatment with a history of trauma. If you or a loved one is struggling with unresolved trauma and addiction, know that you are not alone. At Crest View Recovery Center, we understand the importance of addressing the root causes of addiction for a more comprehensive treatment. 

Our highly trained and compassionate health providers are experienced in addiction and trauma therapy and provide a safe, supportive environment to help you overcome triggers and get you started on a healthy path to sobriety. We believe recovery from trauma and addiction is possible through personalized, comprehensive, holistic treatment practices. 

To learn more about our trauma therapy and addiction programs, call us at 866-986-1371 or contact us today. 

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