by Lyle Fried
It would be nice if humans came equipped with diagnostic sensors that could immediately pinpoint the root of any condition we were struggling with —to be able to see into a person’s timeline and say, “There it is. Right there. That’s where addiction began.”
Unfortunately, it takes many of us years, even decades, to uncover enough of the pain to understand why our journey took the turns it did. No one wakes up and decides to become an addict. But somewhere on the timeline of our lives, many addicts have experienced trauma points. This trauma awakens the desire (either conscious or unconscious) for what all trauma survivors long for: control and safety.
At the core of addiction is the search for positive outcomes —such as a brief reprieve from fear or an escape from overwhelming memories. In order for true and lasting recovery to take place, a certain level of awareness, acceptance and healing must take place.
What is Trauma?
Research proves that trauma can activate survival oriented behaviors that lead to addiction. It can manifest as drug abuse, alcohol abuse, overeating, compulsive sexual behavior and an entire list of other addictions.
But what exactly IS trauma?
The Office of Behavioral Healthcare Equity at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines trauma as a stress that “causes physical or emotional harm from which you cannot remove yourself.”
It can take many forms: abuse, neglect, a frightening experience, bullying, a car accident, a sudden life change (divorce), death of a family member or friend, witnessing an act of violence, and many others. The trauma point can spark feelings of intense fear or helplessness, which can lead to long-term battles with anxiety, depression, and addictive or impulsive behaviors.
This is where co-existing disorders come into play in the treatment of addiction. They are often connected.
Trauma Linked to Substance Abuse
Is trauma linked to substance abuse? Numerous research studies point to “yes,” including The Adverse Childhood Experiences study, which compiled data from over 17,000 participants. The findings revealed that physical abuse, verbal abuse, neglect, domestic violence, loss of a parent, or having a parent who is addicted or mentally ill greatly increased the likelihood of addiction in the individual.
Here’s the breakdown in numbers:
General Population: 8.4%
Alcoholic Males: 24%
Alcoholic Females: 33%
General Population: 6%
Alcoholic Males: 12%
Alcoholic Females: 49%
The likelihood for addiction also increases with the amount of trauma —if the stress was ongoing, for example, as opposed to being an isolated incident.
The study revealed that a child with four or more adverse childhood experiences is five times more likely to become an alcoholic and 60 percent more likely to become obese. Men with four or more childhood trauma points are 46 percent more likely to become IV drug users.
That number is staggering.
The research also found that the most destructive form of trauma is “chronic recurrent humiliation” (emotional abuse in the form of name-calling or ridicule).
Trauma occurring during childhood is particularly damaging. Young children are not equipped mentally or emotionally to make sense of traumatic experiences since they have no frame of reference to put the experiences into context. Plus, a child’s primary outlet for support should be the parents (or family), which are often the source of the trauma. As a result, children can begin to seek out unhealthy means to get their emotional needs met, leaving them highly vulnerable to addiction later in life.
When drugs or alcohol become an option, it can be used to disconnect from feelings, numb guilt or rage, and as an attempt to find some solace from anxiety or fear. Drugs and alcohol can also be used as a way to replicate the missing sense of belonging and acceptance as individuals form connections with other drug users.
How Can Addiction Treatment Help?
Eventually, the trauma survivor / substance abuser, begins with one problem and complicates it with a second. Once substance use progresses to abuse and then to addiction, treatment is often necessary.
It is through healing the wounds of the past and providing skills for a new, overcoming future that substance abusers can then move on to a life that doesn’t include the dangerous cycle of addiction relapse.
The connection between trauma and addiction is real.
If you are struggling with addiction and can’t see a way out, please know that a clean, sober, healthy life is just as real as what you’re experiencing right now.
Don’t wait another day. Get help now.
This post originally appeared as a blog on September 30, 2015 at the link below…