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Is There A Link Between Trauma and Addiction?

Is There A Link Between Trauma and Addiction?

September 5, 2019

woman holding a drinkAddiction is a complex process with numerous variables at play, but trauma may be one of the most important of those variables. By understanding the connection between trauma and addiction, problems can be better treated.

Unfortunately, the mental health field didn’t adequately recognize trauma’s impact on mental health until the last century. The problem drew more attention once mental health professionals saw more and more “shell shocked” soldiers after World Wars I and II.

Since then, we’ve come to understand that trauma isn’t limited to soldiers. Particularly in the last 30 years, we’ve learned that children of abuse or neglect, those who experience domestic violence, rape, and even random events such as car accidents can spark a similar patterns of mental health symptoms in people of all ages and backgrounds.

General Effects of Trauma

With better research, we’ve learned more about how trauma affects mental health functioning. Trauma can cause a variety of problems, including:

  • Neurological changes: Studies have found trauma has physical effects on the brain, at the microscopic level. For example, children who suffer neglect in their first 2-3 years — long before they have clear memories of such trauma — are more likely to have trouble regulating emotions and behavior.
  • Physical brain damage: We know direct brain injury sustained through violence or an accident is a physical problem, but such injuries also affect mental health. Brain injuries can result in confusion, impulsivity, depression, aggression, and other symptoms that affect all areas of a person’s life.
  • Poor interpersonal functioning: When we’ve experienced a trauma, particularly if it was an attack by another person, our ability to relate to others changes. We can become more guarded or fearful. For some people, relationship boundaries blur, resulting in impulsive or unhealthy behaviors when choosing friends or partners.
  • Poor emotional regulation: Trauma makes it hard to process emotions effectively. Situations that don’t bother other people very much might cause severe anxiety, sadness, or anger in individuals with a trauma history. On the other hand, trauma may also cause emotional numbing, leading to more sensation-seeking behaviors.
  • Low self-worth: Depending on the nature of the trauma, sufferers can be left with long-term emotional scars that make them doubt their value in the world. Chronic self-doubt makes it hard to believe you deserve good things in life.

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