An Exploration of Addiction: Trauma and Adult Substance Abuse

by Pablo Bolanos on August 7, 2017

Our series has taken a closer look at the temptations of adolescent life and how experimentation and excess as young adults can feed substance use disorders. Sometimes trauma can push someone across the very thin line between a casual drug habit and addiction.

As adults, we face endless challenges. Stress is a part of life and how we respond can propel us towards a life of perseverance and success or towards engaging in risky self-medication through drug and alcohol use. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “stress can play a major role in beginning drug use, continuing drug abuse, or relapse in patients recovering from addiction.”

Life can also come with unwanted experiences like childhood trauma, sexual abuse, and many other life-altering events. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network says that “people develop substance abuse problems in an attempt to manage distress associated with the effects of trauma exposure and traumatic stress symptoms.”

According to research from the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there is a strong correlation between trauma and substance abuse. For those who have experienced trauma and struggle with some form of PTSD or related anxiety disorder, they may ask themselves if life would be easier if lived through the end of a pipe or the bottom of a bottle. Addiction is pigeonholed as a result of immaturity or reckless decision making. It’s not that simple; science shows that addiction is a brain disease. Drugs literally change how the brain works. These lifelong changes can lead to harmful behavior by those caught in the vicious cycle of substance abuse.

Addiction experts suggest that often-times substance use disorders are rooted in trauma experienced early in an individual’s life. Those who are vulnerable to developing substance use disorders appear to follow similar patterns of why they abuse drugs or alcohol, which include:

  • Feel safe
  • Escape memories
  • Soothe pain
  • Be in control
  • Create a world you can tolerate
  • Treat yourself the way you feel you deserve
  • Redefine who you are

Life is filled with daunting choices and difficult events—and despite all of its complexity—we’re lucky to experience rewarding relationships and experiences. Victims of childhood trauma however, are more likely to experiment with drugs during young adulthood and susceptible to substance use disorders in adult life—especially when they lack a support network. What does that full blown addiction look like from the perspective of an addict and a loved one? Stay tuned to our addiction series as we continue to examine this growing societal issue.

If you or someone you know is unable to stop using drugs or alcohol, seek a referral from your primary care physician or locate an addiction specialist through the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

To learn more about drugs and alcohol, visit our website or contact us online.

Previous post:

Next post: