COVID-19 Update: We are currently accepting new clients with increased safety measures. LEARN MORE ›

Can Trauma Lead To Addiction?

When an individual experiences trauma it impacts the prefrontal cortex of their brain, considered as the CEO of the brain. When this decision maker part of the brain is impacted, healthy decisions cannot be made. Typically, there is more impulsivity, risky behavior and addictive patterns. Trauma also impacts the brain in other ways, leading to increased anxiety, increased depression, increased PTSD symptoms, which then leads to having social impairments such as isolation. In order to deal with the mental and social discomfort, they instead seek out other behaviors or substances to help them regulate that discomfort.

For example, when someone has experienced a lot of trauma in their life, they can have significant amounts of anxiety. To calm their anxiety, they may consume alcohol or take a benzodiazepine or take some opiates and all of that anxiety all of a sudden magically disappears and goes away. Now they have learned how to cope and adapt with something that they did not know how to cope and adapt with, with a substance that’s highly addictive. When that individual is using a substance that is highly addictive for dealing with symptoms left over from trauma, it is easy to see how this perfect storm can create substance addiction or behavior addiction.

Trauma’s Impact on the Body

Trauma stored in the body and our bodies go with us everywhere that we go, therefore it severely impacts the life and functioning of an individual. Traumatic events can impact an individual psychologically, mentally, emotionally, and physically long after the trauma is over. Because a person re-experiencing trauma goes into fight-or-flight mode, the regular functioning systems such as the digestive system, or the sleep regulation cycle can be severely affected.

Some negative effects of Trauma :

  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleeplessness
  • Hypervigilance
  • Inability to stay calm

Trauma From Unremembered Events

Many individuals say they don’t remember any traumatic incidents in their life, however sometimes trauma is suppressed by the body and the brain that they simply don’t remember even as they are triggered by it.

One example is of a person going on a ski trip to Mammoth for the weekend and they had stopped at a gas station. When they stopped at a gas station, someone in a blue hoodie robbed them at gunpoint. They continued on with their ski trip, but when they came back and one day they were in college sitting in their lecture hall with 300 people, they had a serious panic attack and they didn’t know why. It wasn’t until about a month later when they were in therapy that they were able to make the connection that someone in their classroom was wearing a blue hoodie and that the person that had robbed them was wearing a blue hoodie.

Dissociative Amnesia

Our brains have neural networks that are able to link these experiences sometimes without us even consciously being aware of them. A lot of times when we are working with our clients in a group, they get activated and they cannot explain why because they don’t consciously remember the events that may be triggering their reaction.

The diagnosis called dissociative amnesia is when people don’t have memory from their childhood or from events in their life, usually because they had experienced traumatic incidents. It is a survival mechanism implemented by their bodies by suppressing the memories so far down so that they do not have access to those memories. In many such cases, suppressed memories come up during treatment or therapy.

Trauma Related Addiction Treatment

There are several ways to approach treating trauma, broadly classified as top down or bottom up.

The top down treatment is a cognitive approach which helps to shift the way that we think, the way that we look at things, our perspective. Top-down approaches work well to help deal with anxiety, provide coping mechanisms, and learn to become more confident. Top down approaches may not work in some cases of trauma because trying to shift their brain-based thoughts and perspective does not work on their body-based symptoms.

The bottom up approach focuses on the body, so any type of somatic approach can be effective. At Buckeye Recovery, we have found EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) to be very effective in treating trauma. Other popular choices are somatic experiencing and brain spotting.

If you are suffering from addiction due to trauma, we can help! Take the first step and reach out:

Today is going to be the best day of your life.

Kelsey Gearhart

Director of Business Development

Kelsey carries multiple years of experience working in the substance abuse and mental health treatment field. Her passion for this field comes from her personally knowing recovery from addiction.

Prior to Buckeye she held titles of Recovery Coach, Operations Director, and Admissions Director. Kelsey was brought on at Buckeye Recovery as the Director of Business Development. She has a passion for ensuring every individual gets the help that they need, and does so by developing relationships with other providers.

Kelsey also oversees our women’s sober living environments – The Chadwick House for Women. She is committed to creating a safe, nurturing, and conducive environment for all women that walk through the doors of Chadwick.