Why Trauma and Addiction Go Hand in Hand

While there is truth to the fact that addiction does not discriminate, there is an obvious connection between trauma and addiction. Experiencing trauma does not mean that you will develop an addiction, of course, but research shows that traumatic experiences can be major underlying sources of addictive behaviors.

How Trauma Affects the Brain

Thanks to advances in neuroscience, researchers know a lot more about how trauma affects the brain and why these changes may make you more likely to develop an addiction. For instance:

  • The amygdala (the brain’s threat detection area) can be overactive, constantly looking for a threat. This would make you feel anxious, fearful and vulnerable.
  • The hippocampus (the brain’s center for processing memories) can be underactive. Rather than placing your happy memories on the outer layers of your brain for long-term storage, traumatic memories are placed in your present-day thoughts and therefore give you regular disturbing visions and recollections.
  • The cortex (the brain’s area for executive control) can become interrupted by survival-related instincts. These instincts take over logical thinking and decrease your ability to inhibit behavior.

By understanding how trauma affects the brain, it’s easier to see how substances may be used to control unpleasant thoughts and feelings and how addictive tendencies can form.

Trauma and Addiction

According to a report from the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the Department of Veterans Affairs, there is a direct link between trauma and alcohol addiction. Here is what the report found.

  • Between 25 and 75 percent of people who survive trauma or abuse develop alcohol abuse issues.
  • Between 10 and 33 percent of survivors of accidents, natural disasters or illnesses report alcohol abuse.
  • A diagnosis of PTSD increases the risk of developing alcohol abuse.
  • Female trauma survivors without PTSD have an increased risk of alcohol abuse.
  • Both male and female sexual abuse survivors experience a higher rate of substance abuse disorders compared to those who have not suffered this abuse.

Getting Help

No one asks for trauma in their lives, and no one chooses to be addicted. If you were a victim of trauma, it’s important to protect yourself and recognize that you need proper healing.

If you feel that you are at risk for addiction, reach out for help. Counseling can be extremely helpful in working through past trauma and abuse, and there are many healthy ways to deal with unsettling memories such as yoga, meditation, and biofeedback.

If you already have an addiction, a program like The River Source can treat both your underlying trauma and addiction with a combination of counseling and lifestyle changes. Call us today to learn more.


Photo Credit: FreeImages.com/KonradBaranski

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