March 18, 2024

The Link Between Trauma and Substance Abuse

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Substance abuse and trauma can be closely interrelated. Research has long established a connection between experiencing trauma and a heightened risk for substance use disorders. Individuals with a history of trauma are found to consume substances more frequently and are more susceptible to developing dependence, substance use disorders, and associated health issues than those without such a history. Learn more about how trauma is linked to increased substance use and dependence.

What Is the Connection Between Trauma and Substance Abuse?

Studies have consistently shown a significant correlation between experiencing trauma and the development of substance use issues. Individuals who have undergone traumatic experiences like child abuse, violent crimes, natural disasters, warfare, or similar events often resort to alcohol or drugs as a means of coping with emotional distress, haunting memories, insomnia, feelings of guilt or shame, anxiety, or fear. Those struggling with substance use issues are also more likely to encounter traumatic events.

This can lead to a destructive cycle where trauma leads to increased substance abuse, which in turn can result in further traumatic experiences, compounding the problem. Additionally, there is a significant co-occurrence of trauma-related disorders like PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and depression with substance use disorders (the clinical term for addictions). This interrelation suggests that individuals with substance use disorders frequently suffer from trauma-related psychological conditions and vice-versa. The impact of these co-occurring disorders extends beyond the individual, though, often straining relationships with family and friends.

Childhood Trauma and Substance Abuse

A wealth of research illustrates a strong connection between childhood trauma and the propensity for addictive behaviors in later life.

The foundational ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) study identified various traumatic events in the first 18 years of life – including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, neglect, parental loss, exposure to domestic violence, and living with a family member suffering from mental illness. The study revealed a correlation between the number of ACEs and an elevated risk for subsequent substance use.

The impact of childhood trauma on a person is contingent on factors such as the nature and duration of the trauma, the developmental stage during which it occurred, genetic predispositions, gender, and the presence or lack of supportive caregivers.

The immediate psychological relief offered by substances of abuse is one of the primary drivers fueling their use. These substances, along with certain behaviors, generate pleasure and alleviate discomfort, altering how someone feels.

For those with trauma-induced dysregulation of stress responses, substances of abuse provide a temporary escape from chronic anxiety and hyperarousal. Alcohol, benzodiazepines, opioids, and marijuana can have sedative effects, acting as depressants on the central nervous system. Similarly, activities like gambling can induce a trance-like state, offering a temporary reprieve from stress.

Trauma survivors may turn to addictive substances as a way to manage their mood, silence intrusive thoughts, and mitigate stress-induced arousal. This pursuit of numbness, however temporary, triggers changes in the brain that worsen the underlying issues.

Conversely, some people react to trauma by dissociating or depersonalizing during extended traumatic events. This can leave them feeling persistently numb and detached. Using stimulants like cocaine and amphetamines, or engaging in behaviors such as self-harm, sex, or gaming, can temporarily disrupt this numbness, providing a fleeting sense of sensation, yet ultimately deepening the original trauma-related issues.

Understanding and treating addiction effectively calls for a trauma-informed approach that simultaneously addresses the trauma and the resultant addictive behaviors.

Intergenerational Trauma and Substance Abuse

Intergenerational trauma, a concept which explains how trauma experienced in one generation can affect the well-being and behaviors of subsequent generations, plays a significant role in the context of substance abuse. This phenomenon occurs when the effects of trauma are not fully addressed or healed in the first generation, leading to a cascade of behavioral, emotional, and social issues that impact children and even grandchildren. The transmission can be direct, through parenting practices influenced by unresolved trauma, or indirect, through environmental factors tied to hisotrical trauma – poverty, discrimination, or community violence, for instance.

Children and descendants of individuals who have experienced significant trauma, such as survivors of war, genocide, displacement, or severe abuse, may inherit a legacy of pain and suffering which manifests as increased vulnerability to substance abuse. This vulnerability can be a result of learned behaviors, where substance use is modeled as a coping mechanism, or a consequence of the psychological and emotional strain that comes from growing up in a traumatized environment. The stressors associated with intergenerational trauma can lead to heightened levels of anxiety and depression, making substances a tempting escape for individuals seeking relief from their inherited emotional pain.

Beyond this, research into epigenetics has begun to uncover how trauma can lead to changes in gene expression that may increase the susceptibility to substance abuse in subsequent generations. These epigenetic changes can alter the way an individual’s body and brain respond to stress and can influence the development of addiction.

Addressing intergenerational trauma requires a broad approach that not only focuses on the individual’s substance abuse but also on healing the trauma that permeates families and communities. This involves providing trauma-informed care that recognizes and addresses the impact of historical and personal trauma on a person’s life and behaviors. 

Trauma and Substance Abuse Treatment

Key components of effective trauma and substance abuse treatment include:

  • Integrated treatment: Combining services for substance abuse and trauma-related disorders into a cohesive treatment plan which addresses both issues simultaneously.
  • Targeted care: Tailoring treatment to meet the unique needs of each individual, taking into account their specific trauma history, substance use patterns, and personal strengths and challenges. This personalized approach enhances engagement and efficacy of treatment.
  • Evidence-based interventions: Utilizing therapeutic modalities that have been proven effective for trauma and substance abuse, such as CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), DBT (dialectical behavior therapy), EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), and TF-CBT (trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy). These therapies can help people process and heal from trauma while developing coping strategies to manage substance use.
  • Support systems: Encouraging the development of a supportive network, including family therapy, support groups, and community resources. Social support during recovery provides emotional support, reduces feelings of isolation, and helps individuals deal with the challenges of recovery.
  • Holistic therapies: Incorporating holistic therapies like mindfulness and meditation, art therapy, and yoga to support overall well-being and resilience. These practices can help people develop a stronger connection with themselves, reduce stress, and improve emotion regulation.
  • Ongoing care and relapse prevention: Providing ongoing support and resources to maintain recovery and prevent relapse. This includes aftercare planning, relapse prevention strategies, and connections to community resources that can support long-term wellness.

By adopting trauma-informed care principles and integrating specialized treatment strategies, individuals can break the cycle of trauma and substance abuse. Here’s how you can about achieving this in Southern California.

Get Treatment for Trauma and Substance Abuse at Gratitude Lodge

Anyone suffering with brain trauma from alcohol should discontinue consumption under medical supervision. We can help you achieve this at Gratitude Lodge in Southern California.

Choose supervised medical detoxification at one of our rehabs in Long Beach or Newport Beach and streamline the withdrawal process while addressing the issue of alcohol dependence. You can then move directly into inpatient treatment where you will tackle the psychological side of alcohol addiction.

All alcohol use disorders are unique, so treatment at Gratitude Lodge reflects this with personalized treatment plans drawing from the following therapies:

  • Medication-assisted treatment
  • Talk therapies
  • Motivational therapies
  • Group therapy
  • One-to-one counseling
  • Family therapy
  • Holistic treatments
  • Aftercare planning

Start living unconstrained by alcohol addiction by calling 800-994-2184 for immediate assistance.

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Jenni Bussi

Jenni Busse MS, LPCC

Jenni Busse MS, LPSS is the Clinical Director at Gratitude Lodge. Jenni oversees the clinical program and the clinical team at Gratitude Lodge as a whole. Jenni has worked in treatment for almost 14 years. Her background as a licensed therapist and her passion for helping others intersected with addiction recovery when she started working primarily in detox residential treatment.

Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox, facilitating the beginnings of a successful recovery at our rehab addiction centers in Orange County, CA.

Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox.

Many patients don’t realize the toxicity of prolonged alcohol abuse and how it affects the body. Alcohol detox at the luxurious rehab addiction centers at Gratitude Lodge leeches your body of these toxins in preparation for successful treatment for drugs and alcohol abuse. Alcohol detox may not take as long or produce severe withdrawal symptoms, but it is still an essential beginning to your recovery.

Many patients don’t realize the toxicity of prolonged alcohol abuse and how it affects the body. Alcohol detox at the luxurious rehab addiction centers at Gratitude Lodge leeches your body of these toxins in preparation for successful treatment for drugs and alcohol abuse.
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Holistic Therapy

Our holistic therapy treatments offer a full-scope approach to recovery, addressing your mind, body, and emotions as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. This therapy is designed to help address underlying issues and integrate alternative therapies to promote overall health and well-being.
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An essential part of your treatment experience, we offer individual (CBT and DBT talk therapy) and group addiction treatment counseling to help you explore and address the emotional component of addiction, providing you with the tools, self-awareness, and empowerment you need to maintain recovery.
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Dual Diagnosis

Dual Diagnosis is a highly effective addiction treatment that addresses substance use and mental health disorders simultaneously. Often co-occurring, these disorders are best managed when treated together with specific and targeted therapy.
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Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Medication-Assisted Treatment provides you with FDA-approved medications to help ease the symptoms of withdrawal while you’re in treatment. This makes the detox process easier and safer, as well as increasing the chances of a successful recovery.
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Sober Living

Sober living provides a supportive and substance-free living environment for your ongoing recovery. We partner with a number of upscale and carefully vetted sober living homes that are available to our clients after inpatient alcohol and drug addiction treatment.
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Outpatient Treatment

Once detox and inpatient are complete, we provide an easy transition to outpatient care through our hand-selected partners. This program offers a more flexible approach, allowing you to ease back in to daily life while still receiving frequent & effective care.
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Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment provides an intensive and comprehensive addiction treatment program in a structured environment. You will receive 24/7 expert care, therapy, and support as you build your foundation for long-term recovery.
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Drug & Alcohol Detox

A crucial first step in the recovery process, our detox program provides a comfortable, medically supervised environment that addresses the physical aspect of addiction and eliminates substances from your body.
Joe Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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