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The Cyclical Relationship Between Trauma and Addiction

It can be difficult to recognize or understand why you are engaging in self-defeating and self-destructive behaviors. Maladaptive behaviors are often rooted in your life experiences and your emotional responses to them. In particular, traumatic experiences can lead to psychological distress and impede your ability to cope in healthy ways. Therefore, understanding trauma and addiction can help you understand the causes of your self-defeating behaviors.

When left unaddressed, trauma and addiction can create a cycle of distress and misuse. In addition, self-medicating can make it challenging to even realize that you are caught up in a self-destructive cycle. You may even recognize that you are using substances to cope with the distressing thoughts and feelings that your trauma may surface. However, the long-term consequences of addiction itself can increase rather than decrease the distress you have been trying to escape.

At The Guest House, we recognize the need to understand the roots of your behaviors to help break the cycle of addiction. Trauma and addiction can create a seemingly unending cycle of harm that impedes your long-term wellness. Therefore, access to holistic support can help you uncover how your misuse contributes to your distress. When you address the relationship between your trauma and addiction, you can start building tools for long-term healing.

The Relationship Between Trauma and Addiction

Experiences with trauma are not uncommon and will impact everyone at some point in their lives. Trauma can come in many different forms, including physical abuse, neglect, car accidents, loss of a loved one, and natural disasters. However, the development of traumatic stress can have a negative impact on your life when left unaddressed. Moreover, when trauma is left unaddressed, it can lead to self-defeating behaviors like substance misuse.

The co-occurrence of trauma and addiction is particularly clear in histories of early childhood trauma. Exposure to trauma can impact any age, gender, race and ethnicity, education level, and socioeconomic status. However, exposure to trauma can be particularly harmful in childhood when your brain is still developing. As the Depression and Anxiety Journal notes, more than 70% of adolescents seeking SUD treatment had a history of trauma exposure.

Therefore, looking at the prevalence of childhood trauma and SUD highlights the important connection between trauma and addiction. According to “Traumatic Stress and Substance Abuse Problems” from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS), experiences with trauma often lead to self-medicating. You may seek out substances like alcohol and drugs to deal with the physical and psychological ramifications of your trauma. Listed below are some of the ways the distress of trauma exposure manifests itself:

  • Distressing memories
  • Emotional pain
  • Difficulties sleeping
  • Guilt and shame
  • Anxiety
  • Terror

Thus, the physical and psychological distress of trauma can make it difficult to function in your daily life. When you feel overwhelmed by your emotions it can feel easier to attempt to suppress that pain with substances. However, as ISTSS points out, trauma and addiction can create a vicious cycle of substance use. At first, substance use can act as a temporary distraction and relief from the strain trauma has put on multiple areas of your life.

It is understandably tempting to lean into something that seems to make those thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, relationship problems, and issues at work or school disappear. Nonetheless, those fabricated feelings of relief from substances are short-lived as they exacerbate your distress, expose you to more trauma, and increase the risk for other conditions.

Impact of Substance Use on Trauma

As noted in an article from Frontiers in Psychiatry, exposure to a traumatic event (TE) are serious injury or life-threatening event that can be experienced or witnessed. Moreover, trauma is not relegated to one major event in your life; it can also stem from multiple events throughout your life. Thus, your risk for TEs increases with your misuse of substances. Furthermore, substance use can disrupt and impair the parts of your brain that help regulate emotions and impulse control.

As a result, substance use increases the likelihood that you will engage in other risky behaviors like violence, risky sexual behavior, and self-harm. A publication titled High Risky Behaviors by Naveen Tariq and Vikas Gupta notes that high-risk behaviors can have physical, psychological, and social consequences, including death. Some specific examples include:

  • Violence
    • Increases the risk of violence to others and or the self
      • Intimate partner violence (IPV)
      • Sexual violence
      • Child abuse or neglect
    • Psychological and physical risks
      • Mental health disorders
        • PTSD
        • Anxiety disorders
        • Depression
        • SUD
        • Eating disorders
        • Suicidal ideation (SI)
      • Heart disease
      • Lung disease
      • Cancer
      • Diabetes
  • Risky sexual behavior
    • Increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
      • Gonorrhea
      • Chlamydia
      • HIV
    • More likely to get pregnant or impregnate others
    • Psychological and physical risks
      • SUD
      • Mood disorders
      • Untreated infections
        • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
        • Chronic pelvic pain
        • Infertility
        • Ectopic pregnancy
        • Premature birth
        • Stillbirth
  • Polysubstance use
    • Misusing one substance can increase your risk of misusing other substances
    • Makes you more vulnerable to addiction and substance use disorder (SUD)
      • Often co-occurs with mood disorders and other substance use
      • Psychological and physical risks
        • SI
        • Anxiety
        • Depression
        • IPV
        • Gastrointestinal disorders
        • Heart issues

The risky behaviors associated with SUD highlight the cyclical nature of trauma and addiction. Engaging in risky behaviors and situations increases exposure to other substances, mental health disorders, physical harm, and TEs. Exposure to more TEs increases the risk of SUD, mental health disorders, and physical harm. In summary, each risk factor is a risk factor for each other as trauma and addiction feed into each other.

Not only does addiction increase your risk for other risky behaviors, it can make dealing with trauma more difficult. At first, substance use may make you feel better by suppressing memories, dreams, and reminders of your trauma. When those traumatic thoughts and feelings are not at the front of your mind, you may find it easier to fall or stay asleep. You may even feel more relaxed because you are not constantly thinking about your emotional distress.

However, the sense of relief substance use gives you is false. The relief is a facade as all the distress of your trauma comes crashing down on you when substances are out of your system. Your instinct might be to increase the amount and time you spend consuming substances. Yet, taking more and more only feeds into the cyclical relationship between trauma and addiction.

For example, increasing your substance use is like trying to fix a leaky pipe with duct tape. At first, the duct tape works, but eventually, the pipe starts leaking again. Then you find yourself using more and more duct tape to mask the leaky pipe problem from yourself. Eventually, the leak gets worse and the duct tape cannot hide the problem anymore as the pipe bursts and the house floods.

Originally noted by ISTSS, listed below are some of the ways that substance use can worsen emotional distress and lead to other problems:

  • Decreases your ability to concentrate
  • Increases sleep issues
  • Impedes work productivity
  • Increases emotional numbing
  • Makes you more prone to social isolation
  • Strains relationships
  • Impede ability to cope with traumatic memories
  • Increases feelings of anger and irritability
  • Decreases ability to cope with additional life stressors
  • Increases hypervigilance
  • Makes you more vulnerable to mental health disorders
    • Depression
    • Anxiety

The long-term consequences of self-medicating with substances highlight the harm unaddressed trauma and addiction can cause. When the roots of your trauma are left unaddressed, it can perpetuate your trauma and addiction issues. In addition, the cycle of trauma and addiction can lead to or increase other co-occurring issues like mental health disorders.

The Cycle of Addiction and Mental Health

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that is often associated with trauma. As the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) notes, PTSD is an anxiety disorder that stems from experiencing a stressful or traumatic event. Moreover, as the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) states, around 80% of people with PTSD have other co-occurring impairments, mental health, and physical health issues. Whether, your experiences with trauma involved a physical injury or not, the interconnected nature of trauma on the mind and body is significant.

Even if your trauma does not result in or meet the criteria for PTSD, it can still cause long-lasting harm when left unaddressed. However, trauma and addiction can still increase your risk for other mental health disorders and physical health issues. Notably, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) points to a wide variety of mental health disorders that co-occur with SUD, including:

  • Mood disorders
    • Depression
    • Bipolar disorder (BD)
  • Personality disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Moreover, co-occurring SUD and mental health disorders share some commonalities with trauma and addiction like anxiety disorders and depression. Meanwhile, the cycle of trauma and addiction can perpetuate some other mental and physical issues too. Listed below are some of the mental health and physical health difficulties that can occur with trauma and addiction:

  • Mental health disorders
    • Anxiety disorders
      • Panic disorder
    • Mood disorders
      • Dysthymia or persistent depressive disorder (PDD)
      • Major depressive disorder (MDD)
    • Behavioral disorders
      • ADHD
    • Personality disorders
      • Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD)
  • Physical health conditions
    • Increased risk for chronic illnesses
      • Heart disease
      • Liver disease
      • Diabetes
    • More likely to experience chronic pain
      • Physical injuries
      • Illness
      • Psychosomatic illness
      • Illness with no clear physical symptoms

Looking at the co-occurrence of various conditions showcases the cycle of trauma and addiction as a bidirectional relationship. The intersecting relationship between mental, emotional, and physical conditions in trauma and addiction can impede every part of your life. Therefore, seeking support that considers every part of you can help you address your trauma and addiction for your long-term recovery. A holistic approach to care focuses on providing individualized support for your specific needs in recovery.

As the Indian Journal of Palliative Care states, holistic care is born out of the philosophies of humanism and holism in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Through holistic care, you are recognized as a whole in which the mind, body, and spirit are interdependent. Moreover, holistic care is made up of a wide variety of approaches that can help foster long-term healing. One of the approaches that can support whole-person healing from trauma and addiction is trauma-informed care (TIC).

Fostering Healing With TIC for Trauma and Addiction

According to Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services from SAMHSA, TIC is an intervention that focuses on how trauma affects your life and your response to treatment. While TIC can have a variety of models and applications, it is built on these key elements:

  • Realizing that trauma is prevalent
  • Recognizing that trauma affects everyone
  • Responding by putting into practice the knowledge that everyone is impacted by trauma
  • Avoiding re-traumatization

Moreover, at the core of TIC is a commitment to understanding your life experiences as they relate to trauma. Understanding individual lived experiences is an important part of recovery because trauma happens at different levels in both explicit and implicit ways. Some of the different levels of trauma experience include:

  • Mass trauma: Affects a large number of people
  • Community trauma: Has structural or social traumatic consequences
    • Cultural trauma
      • A community with a shared culture or identity experiences trauma that has a long-lasting impact on group consciousness
    • Racial trauma
      • A community’s reaction or response to racial discrimination
        • Direct experiences of implicit and explicit conflict, hate, threats, and injury
    • Historical trauma and generational trauma
      • Has a profound impact on an entire culture
      • Influences generations of the culture beyond the direct TE
  • Group trauma: Affects a specific group of people
    • LGBTQIA+ community
    • Military service members
    • First responders
  • Family trauma: Affects multiple members of a family
    • Loss of a loved one
    • IPV
    • Community violence
    • Car accidents
    • Natural disasters
  • Individual trauma: Affects one person
    • Work-related injury
    • Robbery
    • Life-threatening or chronic illness

When you acknowledge trauma in your life, you can start to understand how that trauma has impacted you. Through TIC you can acknowledge the interdependent relationship between trauma and addiction to unravel your self-defeating behaviors. However, healing from trauma and addiction does not happen with awareness alone. The principles of TIC showcase itself as a multifaceted approach to care for healing the physical, emotional, social, and environmental well-being.

Principles for Healing With TIC

Listed below are the six principles that help guide healing in TIC through attention, awareness, sensitivity, and connection:

  • Safety
    • Treatment settings, activities, and interpersonal interactions ensure your physical and emotional safety
  • Trustworthiness and transparency
    • Treatment decisions are made and conducted with transparency, consistency, respect, and fairness
  • Peer support
    • Fosters access to support from peers with lived experiences of trauma
    • Encourages mutual self-help
    • Establishes safety, hope, trust, and collaboration
  • Collaboration and mutuality
    • Recognizes the barriers of power dynamics and fostering shared commitment to well-being
    • Showcases healing through healthy relationships and meaningful sharing power and decision-making
  • Empowerment
    • Recognizes and utilizes your individual strengths and experiences to support healthy coping and long-term recovery
    • Provides tools to develop self-advocacy
    • Encourages choice, participation in decision-making, and goal-setting for a treatment plan
  • Cultural, historical, and gender issues
    • Acknowledges and dismantles stereotypes and biases in treatment
    • Incorporates services that address specific cultural, racial and ethnic, historical, and gender needs

Through the principles of TIC, you can find support to empower you to find your individual path toward healing. TIC embodies the holistic nature of healing not as a tool for suppression, but one of self-discovery and self-understanding.

Finding Healing for Trauma and Addiction at The Guest House

Trauma and addiction is a cycle of self-defeating behaviors that can leave you feeling trapped in your distress. Experiencing some level of trauma in your life is unavoidable, such as losing a loved one. However, you do not have to spend your life under the weight of your trauma or seek substances to suppress your pain. Long-term recovery is possible when you have access to holistic care that addresses the roots of your trauma and addiction.

At The Guest House, we believe in processing trauma to help you move beyond it to feel better in your daily life. Uncovering the source of your trauma gives you the space to understand why you engage in self-defeating and self-destructive behaviors. When you understand the roots of your harmful behaviors, you can work through trauma-related challenges, build healthy coping skills, and increase your resilience to the stressors of life. Furthermore, recovery does not happen in a vacuum, and you are not alone in finding a path to healing and leading a fulfilling life.

At The Guest House, we are committed to providing holistic care that meets you where you are in your recovery journey. We provide a wide range of therapeutic modalities to give you the support you need to restore your confidence, find self-acceptance, and repair relationships. Through holistic interventions like TIC, you can work in partnership with your clinician to foster tools to discover and build the healthy life you deserve. You can break the cycle of trauma and addiction because you are worthy of love, community, and healing.

Unaddressed trauma can lead to substance misuse, which further increases your risk of experiencing trauma. Thus, trauma and addiction create a cyclical relationship that impedes your ability to lead a fulfilling life. However, addressing the source of your trauma can help you break the cycle to foster long-term healing. Through whole-person healing like trauma-informed care, you can learn to dismantle self-defeating behaviors and build coping skills to work through trauma in healthy ways. At The Guest House, we are committed to providing holistic treatments that support healing in the interdependent nature of mind, body, and spirit for long-term recovery. Call us today at (855) 483-7800 to learn how trauma-informed care can help you heal from trauma.