Trauma and Substance Abuse

Trauma and Substance Abuse

How is trauma connected with substance abuse? Some might think it is because a person who has experienced trauma is more likely to succumb to substance abuse than someone who has never had trauma. Others might feel one who uses substances is more likely to be affected by trauma than a person that does not use substances. Both summations are correct.

The Need to Cope

Traumatic experiences during any part of our lives create a need to survive, process, and cope with the residual harm to our well-being. Humans possess defense and coping mechanisms to deal with trauma, but not everyone’s coping levels are equal. Unsurprisingly, many who struggle to cope with their distress will turn to alcohol and other drugs in an attempt to experience relief. 

There are several factors that can facilitate one’s willingness to self-medicate with substances. These include:

  • Age
  • History of trauma
  • Demographic
  • Finances
  • Health status
  • Relationships
  • Type of traumatic experience

Our Youth Are Vulnerable

A child views the world differently than an adult and reacts using motivations we may not understand. It is important to remember that trauma is subjective. For example, trauma may present as violence, an accident, or health issues. A child who experiences trauma may face an uncertain future. As a result of early in-life trauma, a person may reason their way to self-medicate for pain and stress or experience a spike in moodiness.

According to an article in Depression and Anxiety, exposure to traumatic childhood experiences correlates with substance use disorders (SUDs). Furthermore, SUDs often run concurrently with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These disorders can stay with a well-child throughout their lives if their traumas are left untreated or unresolved.

Trauma and Mental Health

Childhood trauma affects the nervous system, making a person more likely to have mental health issues later in life. Possible complications include anxiety, depression, PTSD, and substance abuse, among other health issues. Traumatic instances for children and adolescents do not always get reported, and as a result, much of the youth population grows up with lingering mental health issues.

Childhood Trauma’s Impact on Adulthood

When trauma affects your nervous system, your brain can slow your impulse control and memory, rendering you in a continuous reactive struggle with your emotions and cognition. This state may go unnoticed in a child, delaying necessary treatments to progress through the subsequent stages of life. 

Abusing alcohol, medications and other substances becomes an easy outlet to cope with trauma’s mental and physical pain. The importance of treatment for trauma and substance abuse cannot be understated.

Recognizing Effects of Trauma

Children and adolescents are the most vulnerable to early-on trauma in its many forms. They are susceptible to physical, sexual, and psychological abuse. They can be traumatized by home or school violence, a severe accident, the loss of a loved one, or a natural disaster, to name a few. 

However, some traumatic experiences may cause a child to withdraw into themselves and not speak up. Still, others may fear additional harm or repercussions, so they keep quiet as a defense mechanism. Older children may use substances and alcohol to numb the emotional pain. 

Recount Experiences That Contribute to Trauma 

As an adult, it is important to recognize and uncover the root of your trauma(s). You may wonder how you can uncover the source of your trauma that is contributing to your substance use. 

The following signs of childhood trauma are provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):

Preschool Children

  • Fearing separation from parents or caregivers
  • Crying or screaming a lot
  • Eating poorly and losing weight
  • Having nightmares

Elementary School Children

  • Becoming anxious or fearful
  • Feeling guilt or shame
  • Finding a hard time concentrating
  • Having difficulty sleeping

Middle and High School Children

  • Feeling depressed or alone
  • Developing eating disorders and self-harming behaviors
  • Beginning to abuse alcohol or drugs
  • Becoming sexually active

You will want to seek professional help when confronting trauma. A professional will provide a safe and comfortable space for you to work through your trauma. 

Traumatic Brain Injury

According to the Journal of Neurotrauma, 1.4 million Americans yearly sustain a traumatic brain injury (TMI). Rising TMIs can attribute to Veterans returning home with penetrating head wounds, an increase in motor vehicle accidents, and a general increase in violence. Substance or alcohol abuse can cause trauma and traumatic brain injury. When a person’s capacity to think or act alters, their risk factor for mental and physical harm increases.

Concurrent Therapies Are Important

When confronted with a loved one’s (or our own) substance abuse, we wonder, “Why did this happen?” There is no single reason but a collection of plausible causes. Consequently, a combination of treatments for dependency and the associated mental health issues is optimal. Traumatic experiences and related substance abuse are no exception.

For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective form of therapy that helps individuals work through their trauma. At SoCal Mental Health, we incorporate CBT in our programs, allowing for more specific and compelling results during recovery. 

In addition, there is a strong correlation between trauma and substance abuse among young adults with PTSD. Substance abuse can be a causal effect of PTSD, but PTSD can also cause further substance abuse. Treatment must be harmonious and collaborative among the two disorders to foster desired outcomes.

At SoCal Mental Health, we believe that awareness and knowledge are fundamental to recovery. We provide support in the form of diagnoses and treatment. We understand that it takes vigilance and persistence to learn and manage symptoms related to trauma. Our programs not only help individuals manage mental health-related symptoms and manage sobriety but also help to build a community that raises awareness and advocates for individuals in need. Anyone who experiences trauma needs support and treatment. We need one another to get through this amazing thing called life. If you or a loved one is currently struggling, please do not hesitate to ask for help. To find out more, call us today at (949) 502-2041

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