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Can Addiction Be a Coping Mechanism for Trauma?

It’s not uncommon for trauma survivors to also struggle with addiction. Some people may turn to substances as a coping mechanism to self-medicate. Others may not even realize that trauma has contributed to their addiction. Fortunately, this cycle can be broken with the proper treatment and care.

Relationship Between Trauma and Addiction

According to “Traumatic Stress and Substance Abuse Problems” by the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS), research has demonstrated “a strong link between traumatic events and substance abuse problems.”

Many people who have experienced trauma like child abuse, natural disasters, and criminal attacks may turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism. Using these substances can help one mask their emotional pain, fear, shame, and anxiety in the short term. However, this can create more problems and a vicious cycle in the long term.

There are also individuals who may not realize that they have been affected by trauma. Through the process of healing addiction, it’s common for traumatic events or memories to come up to the surface and let their presence be known for the very first time.

Trauma and Addiction Statistics

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) notes that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use disorder (SUD) often co-occur. It points to research that found 46.4% of individuals with lifetime PTSD also met the criteria for SUD. Women with PTSD, in particular, were more likely than men to meet the criteria for drug or alcohol dependence.

When nearly half the population of individuals with PTSD also have a co-occurring SUD, it’s crucial to have access to trauma-specific treatment facilities. If addiction is treated without looking at potential trauma, this can be a recipe for disaster.

What Is a “Coping Mechanism”?

According to Coping Mechanisms by Emad B. Algorani and Vikas Gupta, coping is defined as “the thoughts and behaviors mobilized to manage internal and external stressful situations.” Unlike defense mechanisms, which are subconscious responses, coping mechanisms come from a “conscious and voluntary mobilization of acts.”

Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Coping can be a positive tool to help one overcome stress, emotional turmoil, and everyday situations. Unfortunately, many people turn to negative coping mechanisms as well. Coping Mechanisms says that coping is generally divided into four major categories:

  • Problem-focused coping, which addresses a problem that’s causing distress.
  • Emotion-focused coping, which utilizes tools like humor and positive reframing to reduce and transmute negative emotions.
  • Meaning-focused coping is where an individual can use cognitive strategies to manage the meaning of a situation.
  • Social coping is where an individual looks to social support as a means to reduce stress.

Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

Maladaptive or unhealthy coping mechanisms can negatively affect a person’s mental and physical health. Mechanisms like avoidance and emotional suppression can even leave an individual feeling worse off than they were initially.

Coping Mechanisms notes that people who use these unhealthy coping mechanisms are “more likely to engage in health-risk behaviors than those with appropriate mechanisms.” These individuals are more likely to use illicit substances or even turn to dangerous acts like self-harm.

Using Substances as a Coping Mechanism for Trauma

A 2013 study in Addictive Behaviors examined the relationship between trauma and substance use coping in a diverse population of women who experienced sexual assault. According to the study, when individuals use substances to reduce painful memories of trauma, this could create serious long-term effects, including chronic PTSD.

The study says that substance use as a coping mechanism is a form of avoidance coping where emotions and memories are suppressed in the short term. A vicious cycle will be created where the individual now has a substance addiction on top of their traumatic experience. If trauma continues to be pushed down beneath the surface, it can come back to hurt you in many different ways. It’s important to face your trauma in a safe and effective way.

Healing at The Guest House

At The Guest House, we understand how easy it can be to turn to substances in an effort to cope with trauma. Many of our highly-trained staff members have even gone through similar experiences. Our beautiful estate is a place where you can find solitude, support, and structure as you journey through healing. We offer a wide variety of therapeutic modalities that will help you get to the root of your trauma. Here you will learn how to utilize healthier coping mechanisms and reconnect with yourself.

Co-Occurring Disorders

The Guest House specializes in treating co-occurring disorders, especially those that occur with trauma. Our integrative approach that combines mental health with addiction treatment can reduce the risk of relapse and help you find long-term success.

The intersection of issues like grief, trauma, and substance abuse deeply impacted our founders. Through The Guest House, they made it their mission to educate and heal others who are affected by similar co-occurring disorders. We believe that a healthy mind, body, and soul together will help you overcome your struggles so you can find true joy in life.

Traditional and Holistic Therapies

In order to heal co-occurring disorders, it’s important to find the methods and tools that work best for you. At The Guest House, we believe in having a broad toolkit of healing modalities to meet your unique needs where traditional and holistic therapies are combined.

Talk therapy is well-known as one of the most powerful treatment tools. Our group sessions, in particular, will allow you to process trauma and talk about your struggles with others who share similar experiences.

Our nontraditional methods, like somatic therapy, meditation, and yoga, can help you release trauma stored in the body as you learn how to cope with stressors in a healthy way. With such a wide range of tools, you will be sure to find methods that you enjoy, allowing you to rediscover joy and excitement through healing.

Trauma can have a wide range of physical and mental effects on an individual, making it hard to handle everyday life. In order to deal with trauma, many people will use substances as a coping mechanism. This can lead to a vicious cycle of deteriorating mental health and worsening physical conditions. At The Guest House, we specialize in healing co-occurring disorders like addiction and trauma. We offer a wide variety of therapies that combine both nontraditional and holistic methods, allowing you to process trauma in a healthy way. From talk therapy to meditation, somatic healing, yoga, and more, you will be sure to find tools that work best for you at The Guest House. Call us at (855) 483-7800.