Treating Trauma As The Root Of Addiction
March 31st, 2016
We’ve all suffered from trauma and I’ve had my share of hard moments. The death of my father was one of the hardest experience of my life and it made me feel helpless and alone. Psychologists will argue that these incidents are a necessary part of life because they teach us emotional lessons that make us stronger and more successful people.
I get that, but during the hardest moments of trauma it can be impossible to be that clinical. In my life, I’ve seen loved ones and family members turn to drugs or alcohol to treat their pain. My father, who had gone nearly five years without a drop of alcohol, started up again after his favorite brother passed away.
It’s hard to be hard on people who turn to drugs or alcohol to treat trauma. Who hasn’t wanted to take a drink to kill emotional pain? Unfortunately, this abuse can turn to addiction, as it did with my father. But there is help: it’s possible to treat this problem and return to a happy and successful life that is free of addiction.
Anyone who has suffered from trauma understands the emotional impact it has on their life. Clinically, the Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration defines trauma as a situation that “causes physical or emotional harm from which you cannot remove yourself.”
When my dad passed away after a lengthy battle with Pulmonary Fibrosis, the emotional impact on me was devastating. He had always been my guiding light and the rock on which I built my life. And no matter how much I tried to relax or look on the bright side of the situation (i.e. “he’s no longer in pain”), I couldn’t get over my grief: it was inescapable.
Typical symptoms of trauma include mood swings, crying, and flashbacks to the traumatic event. All of these occurred in my life: I jumped from happiness to bouts of crying with no warning. And every night I dreamt of him lying in bed struggling to breathe. I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which is the emotional aftermath of suffering through a traumatic situation.
In that moment, I could understand why people turned to drugs or alcohol to kill their emotional pain: it was too imposing, too difficult to manage on my own. But I held out on drinking because I had seen the way my father had been impacted through the years by his lifelong battle with alcohol.
Problems Caused By Trauma And Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Unfortunately, not everyone can manage this stress and trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder creates a sense of physical and mental imbalance that can throw a person’s life off kilter. I definitely suffered from the following emotional and physical problems after my father died:
- Physical pain
- Difficulty sleeping
- Self-harming impulses
- Addictive behaviors
While death is probably the most common cause of trauma, it can be caused by a wide range of problems. For example, I still suffer from traumatic flashbacks of bullying from elementary school. These situations impact our lives in difficult ways and the situations that cause trauma in one person may be easy for another to handle. Common traumatic incidents include:
- Near-death situations
- War situations (especially prevalent in those that suffer form post-traumatic stress disorder)
- Death of a loved ones
- Car accident
- Childhood bullying
- Parental abuse
- Witnessing something shocking
- National tragedies
Though this may seem like a shockingly large amount of influences, I’ve found that it’s actually a blessing. In my experience, I’ve found that these influences force therapists to fine-tune their trauma treatment to focus on your personal problems. As a result, you will get the best possible treatment. However, if you fall victim to addiction, your trauma treatment will be complicated and exasperated.
A Look Into How Trauma Influences Addiction
Let’s take a look at my father’s life to get a feel for how trauma influences addiction. He was born into a very large family during a time when physical violence was a common way to correct behavior. His father punched and beat he and his brothers whenever they misbehaved, which was often.
As a result, my father had a difficult and traumatic relationship with his father, even though by all accounts he was the “favorite” of the family. At a young age, he turned to drinking to self-medicate his trauma. Trying to treat his trauma was a healthy impulse, but turning to alcohol was the wrong answer. But drinking excessively temporarily killed the pain of his trauma and made it easier to cope.
Through the years, my dad had moments when he realized he was drinking too much. However, falling victim to addiction often results in falling in with a crowd of fellow users. For my dad, these were his drinking buddies at the bar, people that felt like supportive family members. As a result, he struggled to quit drinking as it would have meant giving up what he saw as an emotional support group.
All of these impulses (medicating pain and creating a support group) were healthy ones for my father to feel and they are an essential manner of dealing with the pain of trauma. Unfortunately, this coping method turned to an addiction he never did beat.
The Studies Agree
The connection between trauma and addiction has been proven multiple times, including in a study entitled “Trauma and PTSD in Patients With Alcohol, Drug, or Dual Dependence: A Multi-Center Study.” This study found that people with PTSD suffered from addiction rates as high as 34.1 percent, which was nearly double the rate of those who did not have PTSD. This statistic illustrates just how prevalent trauma is in addiction, but serves as a hopeful reminder that it is possible to treat trauma and addiction at the same time.
The Power Of Dual Diagnosis
What my father should have done was get his emotional problem diagnosed and treated concurrently with his addiction. This treatment begins with what is called dual diagnosis; a treatment that works on both your trauma and addiction to help both ease your trauma symptoms and teach you new coping methods for relapse and triggers behaviors.
Had my father undergone treatment for a dual diagnosis, he would have fixed some of his feelings of inferiority that fed his addiction. He may have received medication for treating his depression and learned how to create a healthy support group. However, he was stubborn and would likely have fought off treatment as a sign of weakness.
However, he was often swayed by numbers and it’s a shame that he never read the study entitled “Effectiveness of treatment for substance abuse and dependence for dual diagnosis patients: a model of treatment factors associated with one-year outcomes.” This study found that 71 percent of people who went through this process were free of both addictive and psychiatric symptoms. Perhaps he would have attended and even enjoyed this treatment as it helped him gain a better life.
What would he have experienced in dual diagnosis? Psychiatrists would have worked to recognize his trauma and identify its causes and then move on to examining how these symptoms contributed to his addiction. Through detailed analysis and discussion, he would have learned methods of managing the pain of trauma, moved through its impact on his life, and discovered new coping techniques for handling relapse triggers and cravings.
Best of all? It would have built him a healthy support group consisting of therapists, other people recovering, and the loved ones around him. Unfortunately, he never went through this process before he died, but was thankfully always surrounded by loved ones who gave him all the support and love he needed before passing on.
Contact Us Today
Trauma is a serious problem, but with the right help, you can recover from this serious problem and get through your addiction in a happy and healthy manner. And we can help. At TreehouseRehab.org, we have a variety of resources that can help set you up with a rehabilitation environment that will give you the positive atmosphere you need to grow emotionally and spiritually through recovery.