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What is Trauma? And What Causes It?

There is a movement that is long overdue, that is trauma-informed care and looking at every human being that goes into rehab or therapy through the lens of what they have experienced, what they’ve gone through, and the traumas they’ve endured.

The psychologist, Peter Levine, talks about how trauma is one of the most ignored and belittled and misunderstood causes of human suffering. For instance, when a kid in school calls their parents and says, “I have a stomachache or I’m throwing up,” the parent will immediately come and pick them up, but when it comes to mental health – anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues – it’s not treated the same. When we start looking at mental health the same way we do physical health, we’ll see a significant shift in human suffering and the treatment of it.

What is Trauma?

If you were to look at trauma and specifically the diagnostic criteria (the DSM of what therapists and psychologists use in order to diagnose someone trauma) is when someone directly experiences or witnesses a near-death experience or a serious injury or sexual violence, whether they directly experience it or sees someone, for example a first responder if they are in a car accident and sees someone else get hurt – that’s what the diagnostic criteria of what trauma entails.

How Trauma Impacts the Brain

Here at Buckeye Recovery, we look at trauma in a body based way. Anytime we go into an altered state of consciousness is when we experience trauma. When the prefrontal cortex of the brain is well functioning, we think clearly, and we have access to our emotions, so we are in a calm and collected state. However, when we experience a traumatic incident our amygdala, which is a different part of our brain, gets activated, sending us into fight-or-flight mode. The frontal lobe and the amygdala cannot both work at the same time so anytime we go into that altered state of consciousness that’s essentially when we’re experiencing a traumatic incident. When something traumatic happens to us, our bodies and brains naturally adopt this mechanism of going from the prefrontal cortex to the amygdala as a coping skill in order to survive.

It is important to note that the event itself is not what causes trauma, but it is our nervous system’s response to the event. Therefore two people experiencing the same event will probably respond differently.

Adverse Childhood Experiences

Vincent Fellitti, a world renowned expert on childhood trauma did a study on working with individuals that came through obesity clinics. He noticed that for some of them, no matter what he did, whether it was education, or medication, or a change in lifestyle, diet, or nutrition, these individuals were unable to, after a period of time, lose the weight, or maintain the weight loss. He recognized that there could be other factors and began to explore into the world of trauma to see what these individuals experienced in their life that they’re unable to adapt, or utilize these tools that are being given to them. He created a list called the Adverse Childhood Experiences of eight types of experiences.

The 8 Adverse Childhood Experiences:

  1. Did you ever experience any type of physical/sexual abuse?
  2. Did you ever experience any type of psychological abuse?
  3. Did you ever experience any type of neglect or abandonment?
  4. Did you ever watch physical abuse, like domestic violence in the home?
  5. Did one of your primary caregivers go to prison?
  6. Were they mentally ill?
  7. Were they addicted to substances?
  8. Was there divorce or separation in their life?

He tracked these experiences from the ages of zero to 18 and found, without any shadow of a doubt, that individuals who have been through adverse childhood experiences were impaired later on in various areas in life.

Addiction Related to ACE

Vincent Fellitti who studied the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences noted that addiction is one of the most significant effects. He explains addiction as a ritualized compulsive comfort seeking, which is when the body does not feel calm or comfortable until it obtains the substance that brings it back to that place of comfort. It is really important to use a compassionate lens to look at substance abuse and addiction and then address it with trauma treatment.

Ready to get started with your recovery? Reach out to us:

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.