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About 70% of adults living in the United States have experienced some kind of trauma. All of these individuals then spend the rest of their lives healing and recovering from that trauma. Even if they’ve become a survivor, they have to figure out how to live with that trauma in the back of their minds.

Sometimes, the trauma can become too much. This is what can cause some trauma victims to become addicted to drugs.

The connection between PTSD and addiction is strong. But, understanding the connection can help us prevent future patients from suffering the same fate.

What Types of Trauma Cause PTSD?

Contrary to popular belief, PTSD isn’t just for soldiers. All types of trauma can lead to PTSD, which means that all types of trauma can lead to substance abuse and addiction.

Trauma can form from any life-altering event. While this includes war and shooting, these aren’t the only kinds of trauma.

Trauma can come from maltreatment, neglect, natural disasters, abuse, violence, a car accident, an injury, or the death of a close relative. Some of these are natural parts of life, yet they can leave permanent scars.

How Does Trauma Affect the Brain?

There is one thing that you need to know about the human brain: it naturally reacts and adjusts to its environment. This characteristic, which is known as plasticity, ensures that the brain is able to keep moving in an environment, whether it’s toxic, healthy, or somewhere in between.

The most important stage for this kind of brain development is childhood. This is why childhood trauma is the most significant kind, although any kind of trauma can leave life-long scarring.

When a child’s brain experiences trauma, it forms, strengthens, and may even dispose of particular neural connections. The map that the brain decides to make influences that child’s future development.

However, it becomes a problem if the body is repeatedly and/or continuously exposed to stress. When this happens, the body continues to make the same stress response.

Eventually, the body will have to do things like digest food and create urine. If it didn’t, our bodies would become overloaded with toxins.

However, the body doesn’t have to keep making neural connections or amplifying other means of development. This means that brain development will stop. 

While you may notice some standard brain growth, the child will continue to show stagnation in the thought process. This is why some adults who went through trauma as children may still hold the same state of mind that they did when they were a child.

Stress Can Contribute To Stunted Brain Development

The main contributor is stress. Being exposed to any kind of trauma at an early age can evoke a feeling of such great stress that the child’s brain completely stops development. The body is too focused on saving and protecting the child’s physical body to worry about development.

When our bodies feel threatened, they focus on only the necessities. When you’re in a fight-or-flight situation, your body wants to focus on things that matter, such as energy and stamina.

Your body isn’t worried about digesting breakfast, creating urine, making neural connections, or performing other non-essential tasks.

This natural response is fantastic for typical stress situations.

However, it becomes a problem if the body is repeatedly and/or continuously exposed to stress. When this happens, the body continues to make the same stress response.

Eventually, the body will have to do things like digest food and create urine. If it didn’t, our bodies would become overloaded with toxins.

However, the body doesn’t have to keep making neural connections or amplifying other means of development. This means that brain development will stop. 

While you may notice some standard brain growth, the child will continue to show stagnation in the thought process. This is why some adults who went through trauma as children may still hold the same state of mind that they did when they were a child.

How Trauma May Lead to Addiction

Medical professionals and researchers all over the world have been studying the connection between trauma and addiction for years. The research started when practitioners started noticing that many patients suffering from addiction had backstories that involved trauma of some sort.

Kaiser Permanente performed a study known as the Unfavorable Childhood Trauma Encounters Study. This showed that children who encounter at least four traumatic situations is exponentially more likely to become an alcoholic.

Furthermore, the study found that these children were 60% more likely to become obese and multiple times more likely to become infusion drug clients than any other patient.

These statistics aren’t promising for adult trauma survivors either. A study by the Veterans Organization estimates that between 35% and 75% of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder abuse alcohol and prescription drugs.

Why the Brain Look Towards Addiction to Cope With Trauma

The co-event of trauma and addiction doesn’t happen by accident. These addictions are the brain’s way of attempting to cope with the leftover emotions trapped inside the body after the traumatic event. 

Using these medications, alcohols, and other substances allows the body to shut down and self-sedate. By doing so, the body is trying to protect itself from the trauma that may still be causing internal damage to the body. 

Addiction may also help the body ignore some of the symptoms that come with post-traumatic disorders.

For example, patients with PTSD may have fomentation. This leads these patients to have social withdrawal, melancholy behavior, sensitivity to uproaring commotion, and more.

Usually, practitioners prescribe steadying or invigorating medications for these patients. However, over time, these medications may not work anymore.

As the body becomes more and more used to the medications that it’s receiving, something called drug tolerance increases.

To be clear, drug tolerance is not equivalent to drug addiction, although one can lead to the other.

Drug tolerance simply means that the patient needs more of a particular drug to reach the desired effect of that drug. When patients aren’t getting the effect that they want from their prescriptions, they can get frustrated from the lack of results.

The patient’s reaction may be to become dependent on more and more of that medication in order to get the results that they want. This is what may lead to their drug addiction.

Other Reasons for Drug Addiction to Consider

Researchers have found multiple other reasons for the connection between trauma and addiction. Although, the trail between dependence and addiction is the most common.

Besides this connection, some patients may show that risk tolerance has something to do with the development of addiction.

People who have gone through childhood trauma are more likely to put themselves at risk. They’re more likely to adopt risky behaviors and perform those behaviors more commonly.

They seek out toxic relationships, drive uncontrollably, live in unsafe neighborhoods, and perform other dangerous acts. Whether these individuals are doing so intentionally or unintentionally, they’re impacting their lives negatively.

And, these acts can lead to an untimely death.

These patients are stuck in a state of being treated horribly. So, they’re going to treat themselves the way that they feel. In turn, this may lead to brutality, abuse, and the like.

Lastly, some researchers have considered a hereditary component that may connect PTSD and addiction. However, there has been no definitive conclusion for these links.

More Than Drugs and Alcohol

Patients who have experienced childhood trauma may go through long periods of time self-curing with medications and alcohol. However, drugs and alcohol aren’t the only two things that can become addictive for these patients.

An individual who has pushed out their trauma over a long period of time may find themselves sober yet addicted to other behaviors. They may be involved in excessive amounts of gambling, sex, and other compulsive behaviors.

Most of these patients are aware that they’re trying to keep a distance from their trauma. But, they aren’t aware of how their actions are transforming them. 

In other words, they think they’re helping themselves by pushing the trauma away. But, they’re only making it worse for themselves.

How Should Those Addicted to Drugs Manage Their Trauma?

Managing trauma may be a lifelong task. But, managing your trauma effectively is important to ensure that you’re taking good care of yourself and healing from your past.

First, you should work on getting away from drugs and alcohol. If you’ve already started to become addicted to drugs, you need to work on getting sober before you can move on to other parts of the recovery journey.

After becoming sober, you’ll become more grounded and clear-minded.

From there, you can work with a specialist on an individual or group basis. This can help you uncover your childhood trauma and discover how it truly affected you.

Once you’ve determined this background information, you can move on to the absorbing and healing processes. Your specialist may recommend medication, psychotherapy, or other trauma-centered treatments.

Because there is such a strong connection between trauma and addiction, these patients need to work with some kind of specialist or a team of specialists. Overcoming the brain’s natural coping processes isn’t easy. And, it’ll help to have an expert on your side guiding you every step of the way.

The specialist that you work with will determine what your personalized treatment plan will look like.

How Does Childhood Trauma Affect Adulthood?

One of the biggest mysteries to patients suffering from childhood trauma is how it follows them into adulthood. Some people think that things that happened in childhood will stay there.

Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.

In fact, things that happen during your childhood can haunt you for the rest of your life if you don’t get proper counseling and treatment.

Traumatized children turn into traumatized adults. Without intervention, there isn’t much change.

The only true change is how these individuals cope with their trauma.

A traumatized adult may turn to alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, erratic driving, unstable relationships, and more. Some adults carry childhood habits such as compulsive eating with them into adulthood.

Why Child Trauma Is More Significant

Researchers are more inclined to focus on childhood trauma because trauma has a much larger impact on children.

First, children are restricted in their logical derivations. They only know so much about the world, so they can only arrive at so many conclusions when something happens. 

On the other hand, adults tend to be more logical about situations. So, they aren’t as likely to be negatively impacted by a situation. They can usually reason their way through it with minimal permanent trauma.

Second, children are more dependent on their families and friends. They need these people for love, attention, life, and belonging.

If the individuals that a child depends on become the spring for abuse, the child is much more likely to have a negative reaction. When their beloved parent or friend becomes the one that’s hurting them, they find it hard to trust at all.

These two reasons make children the most vulnerable for becoming harmed in the long run from traumatic interactions.

Children are innocent creatures of their own minds. They can only work with what they know about the world (and that isn’t much).

They depend on the people around them to keep them safe and happy. If this doesn’t happen, children that survived trauma may never be able to trust, love, or feel safe again.

Working through these kinds of thought processes is difficult. This is what can make trauma a permanent imprint on these children’s lives.

Addiction Treatment In Riverside County

Trauma from childhood can have long-term effects on someone’s mental health, even if they are no longer experiencing it. For example, children who go through the coronavirus pandemic may be more likely to have anxiety, PTSD, or other psychological health problems, which could lead to addiction in adulthood.

Sources

  1. How To Manage Trauma. The National Council.
  2. Trauma Types. National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
  3. Combat Trauma and Addiction. National Association For Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors.