Trauma & Substance Misuse

Trauma and addiction are often linked to each other. Addiction frequently occurs as a result of trauma and related mental health disorders associated with trauma.

To begin to understand the connection between the two, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what trauma is. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) describes trauma as any event or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as life-threatening or emotionally or physically harmful. This trauma has lasting effects on an individual’s ability to function socially, mentally, physically, spiritually, or emotionally.

An important part of this definition is the phrase “experienced by.” What one individual perceives as traumatic may not be traumatic for another. Understanding this is key to changing public perception of trauma. Domestic violence, combat, natural disasters, and sexual assault are just some examples of trauma, but these are certainly not an exhaustive list. Trauma comes in many forms.

Why Victims of Trauma Turn to Substance Misuse

Because of the effects of trauma, it can be difficult to manage negative emotions and stressors associated with it. This can often lead individuals to seek unhealthy ways of coping, including substance misuse. In fact, a reported 90 percent of individuals in a behavioral healthcare setting have experienced trauma. For many, this trauma is often chronic and may occur over several years.

Additionally, individuals who engage in risky and harmful behaviors as a result of substance use are more likely to experience a traumatic event as a result of such behaviors. In this instance, trauma can be an outcome of substance abuse.

There are many reasons why some turn to substance misuse after experiencing a traumatic event. Some people use substances to help dull the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a disorder that often develops as a result of trauma. Common symptoms associated with PTSD include hypersensitivity, social withdrawal, depression, and insomnia. While alcohol and drugs may initially help to manage these symptoms, addiction inhibits people from healing from the trauma. Over time, the seeming “cure” becomes physically and emotionally damaging just like the traumatic event.

Trauma-Informed Care in Substance Misuse Treatment

Trauma and substance abuse are co-occurring disorders, and therefore, both must be treated in order to improve the chances of long-term recovery.

Trauma-informed treatment services take an integrative approach to intervention; treating the whole person, and not just the symptoms associated with substance misuse or trauma. Trauma-informed care practitioners are educated and trained in trauma. They understand that drugs or alcohol can be used as a method of coping or survival for trauma survivors. These professionals can greatly assist in finding healthy coping mechanisms to deal with trauma, while also making survivors feel empowered and hopeful for recovery.

Trauma-informed care allows for the most comprehensive treatment approach and gives a higher chance of a positive outcome.

Pyramid Healthcare understands the relationship between trauma and addiction and uses a dual diagnosis approach to help patients rebuild and recover. Additionally, our Langhorne inpatient program offers trauma-focused care for both men and women.

To take the first steps toward recovery, call 888-694-9996.



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