Traumatic experiences and drug and alcohol addiction often go hand in hand. Researchers have been studying for years why this link occurs. Traumatic experiences can manifest themselves in many forms. Reactions to traumatic events can vary and depend on the individual. If trauma is not addressed appropriately, it can have devastating impacts on a person’s life including that person developing post-traumatic stress disorder.
In order to deal with the symptoms that present themselves due to the trauma, a person may begin engaging in unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as self-medication. Thankfully, there are treatment options that address both the trauma and the addiction to help those suffering regain a healthy life physically and mentally.
What is Trauma?
Trauma, just like addiction, can happen to anyone. Experiencing trauma is our brain’s reaction to a distressing event that overwhelms us. It floods our coping skills, which can cause someone to feel helpless or lose their sense of control. Trauma can affect every emotional response. There are no cookie-cutter criteria that mark what events will cause traumatic symptoms. Traumatic experiences are often unique to the individual, making the response to the trigger vary from person to person. Feelings usually associated with traumatic events are that of betrayal, helplessness, intense pain, or loss.
Children are often more susceptible to traumatic events than adults, as they have not learned necessary coping skills. However, trauma can happen to anyone of any age. Traumatic events could include natural disasters, assault, divorce, legal trouble, or relationship conflicts. Traumatic events can also be reoccurring and these can include war, domestic violence, sexual assault, or child abuse.
A tactic used by many people who are suffering from trauma is to try and avoid the trigger. While this may work temporarily, it will not be effective long term. A person will eventually run into their trigger. Several responses to a traumatic trigger could include profound sadness, anger, and fear. While these are emotional responses to trauma triggers, there can also be physical responses the body has as well. A person may experience digestive issues, loss of appetite, dizziness, and changes in their sleeping patterns. When these symptoms begin to last for a long period of time, a person may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychological disorder relating to trauma. Not every person who is traumatized will develop PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder may present itself right away or it may take years to develop. This disorder directly impacts a person’s brain chemistry, affecting how they perceive current and past events. A brain that is functioning normally will be able to distinguish between past and present events. However, someone who is suffering from PTSD will have difficulty distinguishing this. The brain will respond as if the past event is currently happening.
PTSD causes intrusive memories, mood changes which may be drastic, and altered emotional reactions. Intrusive thoughts could include the memory of the traumatic event playing over and over in the back of someone’s mind. They may experience nightmares or night terrors about the event. While they are awake, they may seem to be spacing out while they are experiencing flashbacks that may be very vivid. Changes in mood that a person may experience could include emotional numbness towards situations that would warrant emotion. They may be going through a strained relationship or have been avoiding friends. A person suffering from PTSD may also engage in self-destructive behavior as a way to cope emotionally. This could include drug use, binge-drinking, or criminal activity.
Trauma and Addiction
Researchers have noticed a connection between trauma and addiction. Those who are suffering from drug and alcohol abuse also have a high probability that they also have a history of trauma. Being able to recognize someone suffering from both trauma and addiction may be very difficult. This is because they often display some of the same symptoms. Someone suffering through trauma may also not feel comfortable coming forward about their drug or alcohol abuse. One reason that trauma and addiction could co-occur is that those who are suffering from addiction may be more likely to be in harm’s way. For example, those experiencing addiction may be more exposed to crime, violence, and accidents which could lead to trauma.
The Dangers of Self Medication
One of the possible reasons that trauma and addiction are so heavily linked is because of the multitude of negative symptoms that are associated with trauma. These symptoms, if left untreated, are very difficult to cope with. This could lead to someone turning to drugs and alcohol as a means to manage their symptoms. While this could temporarily suppress their symptoms, it often leads to greater problems.
The process of using drugs or alcohol as a means to treat yourself and suppress symptoms is known as self-medication. Self-medication can be in the form of illegal substances and prescription medications. Since the person taking the drugs, alcohol, or medication was not prescribed by a doctor and is not under medical supervision, there is a very high chance that it could result in negative consequences. Every drug can have a different reaction to a different person’s body. Without proper advice from a medical professional, self-medication can lead to low blood pressure, difficulty breathing, coma, and even death.
Treatment of Trauma and Addiction
It is often medically recommended that if someone is suffering from trauma and addiction, the addiction is to be treated first. While there are programs that can treat both at the same time, it is often difficult to treat the symptoms of trauma under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Once the person is in recovery and their body is free of drugs and alcohol, then they can begin meeting with a therapist to specifically address their trauma symptoms. The best treatment plans are those that focus on the individual and are uniquely designed to fit their needs.
Arizona Addiction Recovery Center provides its clients with exceptional medical staff, including expertly trained therapists alongside their rehabilitation services to meet the needs of every client that walks through the door. Their treatment programs are uniquely designed to help their clients succeed not only during treatment but also once they integrate back into their daily lives. Their clients’ physical and mental health is their number one priority. If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction, the time to seek treatment is now. Call today to change your life for the better!
Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Arizona Addiction Recovery Center holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2007. Call 888-512-1705.
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