What is Trauma And What Causes It?
Trauma forces a person to be victimized by the experience that caused them the trauma over and over again. This can happen in many ways including flashbacks, nightmares, or a perpetual reliving of the incident. In many cases, trauma leads people to substance abuse in a futile attempt to drown out these negative memories.
They want to forget about the traumatic experience in any way possible and bury the feelings that come with it. This, in turn, frequently leads to the development of a substance use disorder. Trauma can be caused by many life-changing experiences, such as:
- Natural disasters
- Rape, physical abuse, sexual, or verbal abuse
- Robbery and/or assault
- Death of close friends or family members
- An accident leading to severe injury
When Does Trauma Cause Disorders, Like PTSD Symptoms?
While many experience some form of trauma at some point in life, most people will not develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result. PTSD is a mental health condition that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event.
The signs of PTSD vary from person to person, and not everyone experiences all of the possible symptoms. PTSD is usually diagnosed if the person experiences symptoms for about a month continuously. Many people might not experience any symptoms right away. In fact, in many cases, symptoms might only start to occur months after their traumatic experience. Common symptoms of PTSD include:
This is characterized by trying to avoid situations or people that trigger memories or emotions related to the traumatic experience. It might also be followed by a certain level of emotional numbness, too. The belief is that if the person just avoids certain situations, it won’t remind them of the traumatic experience.
The patient involuntarily experiences the event in many ways, like flashbacks and/or nightmares. Consequently, this makes them feel as though they are experiencing the trauma over and over again.
A patient may constantly feel on edge, jittery, and be on the lookout for potential danger. This is also frequently accompanied by irritability, anger, and difficulty sleeping and concentrating.
Patients struggling with PTSD are often plagued by negative feelings about themselves and the world around them. This can manifest itself as guilt, shame, a lack of interest in things previously enjoyed, distrust, or inability to feel happiness.
Extreme Changes in Behavior
Whether it is due to trauma or the symptoms mentioned, people might display changes in behavior. This can be anything from extreme anxiety or depression to actual changes in sleeping or eating habits. Paranoid behavior is also very common, as the person might become hypervigilant.
Engaging in Violent and/or Risky Behavior
In some extreme cases, victims might become violent. This can be viewed as a self-defense mechanism by the victim. They might also start putting themselves in risky situations, with little regard for their well-being. Those who have had a traumatic experience that resulted in some sort of violence at the time might be more prone to violence after the fact.
When people experience this type of trauma, they will naturally have feelings of sadness and perhaps endure difficulties in school, work, and relationships. If these symptoms persist for longer than a few months, the individual may have PTSD.
Any person can develop PTSD, and it’s important to note that it’s not a sign of weakness. Factors such as age, gender, and previous exposure to traumatic experiences may make an individual more likely to develop PTSD.
What is the Link Between Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Addiction?
PTSD is a mental disorder. Like many other mental health disorders, it can lead to an increase in the chances of a substance abuse disorder developing. Unfortunately, some people who suffer from PTSD and are addicts are only diagnosed with PTSD after starting addiction treatment.
About 60% of people struggling with addiction are also diagnosed with a mental disorder. When it comes to PTSD, about 75% of people who faced violent or abusive trauma report struggling with addiction.
The reason for that is because many people partake in substance abuse as a way to self-medicate. Mental disorders, like PTSD, alters brain functions such as the release of neurotransmitters like endorphins, which improves the mood. For many, drugs and alcohol might feel like the only way to make up for this, and for a while, it might actually work, at least on the surface.
The problem is that not only is this unhealthy, but with time it will require more and more “doses”. The brain becomes used to the substance and eventually becomes dependent on it to even function properly. That is when consumption evolves to addiction.
Having mental and substance abuse disorders is a condition called dual-diagnosis. Two co-occurring disorders feed off of each other, no matter which one was triggered first.
Many people take medication for the disorders and might engage in occasional drinking.
It is important to understand that this is different from addiction. People can take prescription medication for disorders safely, while substance abuse is the actual problem. Though it differs from everyone, the main signs of addiction are:
- Loss of interest in activities, hobbies, and people that they once enjoyed
- Lack of proper personal hygiene and more-diminished-than-usual personal appearance
- Overtly secretive behavior most of the time or being more introverted than usual
- Sudden, significant changes in eating and/or sleeping habits (too much or too little)
- Displaying manipulative behavior and/or lying constantly
- Taking higher doses than prescribed or taking drugs without prescription, even going as far as looking for medication with similar active ingredients
- Experiencing extreme mood swings or emotional stability, sometimes acting paranoid
- Having problems with concentration and/or memory
- Getting into financial or legal problems due to drug or alcohol abuse
- Finding it impossible to lower the current dose or stop using/drinking altogether
Traumatic experiences can influence people in various ways. Patients struggling with PTSD are often plagued by negative feelings about themselves and the world around them. This can manifest itself as guilt, shame, a lack of interest in things previously enjoyed, distrust, or an inability to feel happiness.
A person’s method of dealing with a traumatic experience can impact his or her ability to get sober in the short and long-term. That is why, when looking for addiction treatment, people with PTSD must address both disorders.
Even if PTSD was the first disorder to manifest itself, it doesn’t mean treating it will solve addiction-related issues. Leaving addiction untreated can trigger symptoms of PTSD and end up undoing all the work to treat it.
The opposite can also be an issue. Addressing addiction and not PTSD might cause the symptoms of PTSD to become worse. As mentioned, PTSD symptoms might lead the person to seek drugs and alcohol to numb their pain.
Concurrent Trauma Therapy and Addiction Therapy
Unresolved emotional trauma can cause physical health issues to arise along with ongoing psychiatric problems. A trauma-based therapy approach, in conjunction with our multidisciplinary programs, offers those recovering from addiction the ability to start healing the emotions within. In a lot of cases of addiction, there is an underlying traumatic issue that has not been addressed. Until any underlying trauma is resolved, an addict is at risk of relapse.
For those who are suffering from a history of trauma, there is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. This is a type of trauma therapy that is used to resolve the development of trauma-related disorders by combining psychotherapy and eye movement therapy. It is meant to reduce negative associations with traumatic events and reduce distressful emotional reactions over the course of multiple sessions.
We use this course of treatment in conjunction with holistic and traditional therapies. That way, patients can begin addressing their trauma in a more complete manner. This allows them to work more in-depth on trauma-related issues without neglecting other important parts of treatment.
Our goal is to help patients overcome trauma, recognize the connection between their trauma and addictions, become abstinent, and learn how to safely and healthily manage mental distress in the outside world.