How Single-Event Traumas Can Lead To Addiction
July 14th, 2016
Sooner or later, we all go through what can be considered a traumatic event that makes life more difficult for us to handle. Trauma can be a sustained series of events (such as an abusive relationship) or a single incident. Sadly, even a single traumatic occurrence may compel someone to turn to drugs or alcohol for muting emotional suffering. In fact, it can even cause an addiction to these substances, throwing a person’s life even further off track.
Understanding how single-event trauma can lead to addiction can help you fight back against this co-occurring disorder. Please read on to learn more about how you may battle an addiction born out of trauma. It just may save your life or the life of someone you love who is trapped in the vicious cycle of trauma and addiction.
What Is A Single-Event Trauma?
Single-event trauma is defined by at the National Center For Biotechnology Information as a trauma that happens to one person in a single incident. Their examples of this type of trauma include a mugging, an attack, physical injury, rape, and anything else that threatens a person at a single point in time. People who suffer from these instances of trauma often feel a great sense of shame that they were unable to avoid them, even when the event that would lead to trauma was unable to be evaded or foreseen.
In other instances, such as the death of a loved one, those left traumatized may feel shame that they couldn’t have helped their loved one or upset that they didn’t spend more time with their departed. People often keep this trauma a secret from others, due to shame. Sadly, this only increases the severity of the trauma and can create other problems, such as repeat instances of a similar traumatic event. It can go on to make a person feel isolated, alone, or even victimized.
Even worse is when a person actually shares their experience with a trusted individual, who in turn tries to blame them for the event having happened or downplays the effect it has had on their lives. This displays a history of further confusing the causation of the trauma and can make a person feel silly or stupid for their valid emotional response. Those negative perceptions of their emotions doesn’t change the fact that those emotions still exist, nor does it deplete validity in feeling said emotions.
Unfortunately, a situation like this can create an ever-increasing sense of trauma that further pulls a person into a negative spiral. It can also cause immediate changes to the suffering individual’s body and mind that force him to turn to drugs or alcohol as a source of comfort and joy. The reasons this happens are complex and will be discussed in more depth below.
The Effects It Has On Your Body And Mind
Single-event trauma has a severe and immediate effect on your physical and emotional health. This impact is a major influence on addiction and can lead to other problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. The severity of these conditions has been studied and confirmed by reputable sources.
For example, in the article “Trauma Exposure: When Stress Takes Root in the Body,” the physical and psychological effects of trauma, including single-event trauma, were studied in depth. After studying the various effects it had on the body, it concluded:
“It is noted throughout the literature that individuals exposed to trauma frequently experience comorbid disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. The psychological impacts of trauma are long term and treatment resistant. Furthermore, the psychological impact of trauma imparts further risk and exacerbation of physical illness… it is frequently difficult for an individual to return to baseline activities (including social and occupational functioning).”
Often, these types of problems are strong enough to make a person turn to drugs to self-medicate. Drugs and alcohol can seem like a simple and effective way to numb trauma pain, but which often end up promoting addiction.
Single-Event Trauma May Lead To Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
All of the problems caused by single trauma, as mentioned above, can contribute to a condition known as post-traumatic stress disorder. This disorder causes a variety of problems, including anxiety, depression, agitation, physical sickness, and mental instability. This condition can often lead people to addiction, a process that will be outlined in more detail below.
However, we are first going to look at the ways in which a single-event trauma can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. The article, “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Following a Single Event,” follows the story of a young man named Tony. Tony joins the army at the age of 18 and suffers a severe experience while in combat. This singular experience is severe enough to not only traumatize him, but to create post-traumatic stress disorder.
As a result, Tony often feels disassociated with people and suffers from the symptoms that follow this disorder. It causes a great deal of depression and makes it hard for him to adjust to life after coming home from the military. This condition is common in people who come back from warfare, but it can be triggered by any single traumatic event.
In fact, even an event like being left by a loved one can trigger the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder. People respond emotionally to events in different ways, and what might be relatively easy for one person to handle may be excessively traumatic for another. This is important to understand, identify, and empathize with when going through recovery.
How Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Leads To Addiction
People who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder often fall victim to addiction as a way of self-medicating. The connection here can be complex, so let’s walk through an example to get a feel for how anyone can fall into this pattern. We’ll use a person named Amy and how trauma led to her addiction.
In our story, Amy is a successful computer programmer in her mid-20s who is assaulted by a male date. Though Amy successfully fights him off, the impact of the event is severe. Amy is a young Christian who was saving herself for marriage, and feels severe trauma as a result of the event.
It becomes harder and harder for Amy to handle her trauma. She has a hard time going to work and feels shaky and nervous around men. Nightmares plague her and create insomnia symptoms. As a result, Amy starts turning to a nightcap of vodka just before bed to help calm her nerves.
However, that nightcap isn’t enough. Soon, she is drinking a few shots of vodka every day to keep her stresses at bay. Quickly, she is drinking a half pint, a pint, and then nearly a fifth of vodka daily. To Amy, that alcohol has eliminated the negative emotions caused by her trauma, or so she thinks: those problems are still buried deep down and are compelling her to drink. Sadly, this kind of cycle is common in people who suffer from even a single traumatic event.
Treating These Problems Simultaneously
When treating addiction when trauma is present, it is impossible to treat one before the other. They are so complexly intertwined that only careful analysis and treatment of both (known as dual diagnosis) is possible. Addiction and trauma experts will work with you to help alleviate your trauma symptoms and break the grip of addiction. A typical trauma treatment when going through a dual diagnosis recovery method will include many of the following steps:
- Identifying the source of the trauma
- Eliminating feelings of shame or guilt associated with the trauma
- Managing negative emotions caused by the trauma
- Reinforcing positive feelings and rebuilding a person’s self-esteem
- Walking the person through the trauma and illustrating how it wasn’t their fault
- Examining positive ways of coping with trauma symptoms
- Helping a person gain control of their emotions and decreasing their anxiety
While these processes are occurring, you will also be going through addiction therapy, including withdrawal treatments, a physical health assessment, psychological evaluation and treatment, and potential prescription of medications. In this way, both disorders are treated simultaneously, their severity diminished, and the connecting cord between the two is severed while recovery emerges.
Heal With Us
At TreehouseRehab.org, you have access to a wide range of experts that are ready to help you overcome your trauma and addiction. They have helped hundreds of people like you move through the difficulties of dual diagnosis and can give you the helping hand you need to recover. Please don’t hesitate to contact us today to learn more. We’re always ready to help.
National Center For Biotechnology Information – Trauma-Informed Care In Behavioral Health Services
Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association – Physical Health Problems After Single Trauma Exposure: When Stress Takes Root in the Body
Psychcentral – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Following a Single Event
Rutgers – Substance Abuse And Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Comorbidity