Do People With Trauma Have a High Rate of Addiction?

Do People With Trauma Have a High Rate of Addiction?

Most people experience significant trauma at some point in their lives. For some, trauma is more memorable and seemingly severe. For others, the effects of trauma emerge long after the event has passed. And unfortunately, these traumas very often lead to addiction.

While this may sound disheartening, there are also very valid reasons to believe that in the process of recovering from trauma and addiction, you can not only turn things around but change your life for the better.

Here, we’ll explore how trauma and addiction are related, how childhood traumas can lead to substance misuse later in life, and how the healing journey can take you beyond recovery and into the life you truly desire.

The Link Between PTSD and Addiction

Let’s look at some figures showing the correlation between substance abuse disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder. (PTSD is a set of symptoms that results from trauma. Note that not all trauma leads to PTSD.)

According to Jamie Marich, PhD, author of EMDR Made Simple, the vast majority of people with PTSD experience some degree of addiction. About 28% of people with a PTSD diagnosis use substances in a problematic way, and an additional 35% are dependent on them. Taken together, this means that well over half of all people with diagnosable PTSD also struggle with substance misuse.

Trauma and Substance Misuse Among Young People

Research also shows that this link is especially strong among teens. One study published by the National Institutes of Health finds that, “Up to 59% of young people with PTSD subsequently develop substance abuse problems.” Additionally, “this seems to be an especially strong relationship in girls.” According to the National Survey of Adolescents, survivors of sexual abuse or assault are also three times more likely to misuse substances. Among the adolescents surveyed, over 70% of those in addiction treatment had a history of trauma.

These numbers might seem discouraging – and they do demonstrate how common it is for people with significant trauma to use substances to cope. But the good news is that with willingness and the right guidance and support, you have every chance of recovery. In fact, the process of healing from addiction and the trauma that lies beneath it can transform your entire life.

We’ll explore resilience and posttraumatic growth further below. For now, let’s look at the reasons why trauma and addiction are linked.

Possible Links Between Trauma and Addiction

Some people find themselves in a problematic relationship with drugs or alcohol because they use substances to self-medicate symptoms of trauma. The type of substance people use often corresponds with the symptom they’re attempting to soothe. People struggling with hyperarousal, for example, might lean towards depressants like alcohol and marijuana to calm their nerves.

Other reasons PTSD and substance use disorders are related might include:

  • Traumatic events caused by intoxication, which add to the effects of trauma
  • Genetic predisposition to both trauma and substance abuse

In any case, people with PTSD tend to run into substance issues at very high rates. According to University of Toledo professor of psychology Matthew Tull, PhD, “People with PTSD are up to 14 times more likely to develop a substance use disorder compared to people who don’t have a PTSD diagnosis.” And, “Among those with lifetime PTSD, approximately 46% also have a drug or alcohol use disorder.”

Childhood Trauma and Adult Substance Use Disorders

The effects of childhood trauma can lead to addiction, among a host of other challenges.

Developmental trauma can stem from what are known as “adverse childhood experiences,” or ACEs.

ACEs can include physical, mental or sexual abuse, neglect, or witnessing parents struggle with issues such as domestic violence or addiction.

Once this “map” of trauma takes hold in your body and mind, traumatic events down the line can act as triggers for substance use. That’s why, according to the American Counseling Association, “There appears to be specific vulnerability to addiction for those who have experienced four or more ACEs.”

This is significant, considering that 61% of the population has experienced at least one adverse childhood experience. And almost 25% say they’ve endured multiple.

Long-Buried Wounds

PTSD and trauma symptoms can result from recent, memorable trauma. Or, it could have to do with unresolved trauma from any point in your life. It’s possible to experience the effects of long-buried trauma. This can even include trauma we don’t remember. This is important to know, as trauma that occurs at an early age can affect the way your brain develops – and therefore your susceptibility to addiction.

Trauma and Brain Development

Because the brain is developing during childhood, trauma that occurs at this age can impact your cognitive function. This can increase survivors’ likelihood of developing a substance use or mental health disorder.

But while trauma exposure clearly presents challenges, the reality is that many people who incur childhood trauma turn out to be very well-adapted. And the self-growth that takes place during the healing process is a big part of that strength.

Posttraumatic Growth

While trauma is widespread, so is resilience. Resilience is the ability of people who have been through a highly traumatizing event to come out on the other side stronger for it. This is an impressive testament to the capacity of the human spirit.

Although people suffer from trauma at very high rates, it’s also not unusual to see those people carrying out healthy, fulfilling and successful lives. “In fact,” says cognitive scientist Scott Barry Kaufman, “many who experience trauma—such as being diagnosed with a chronic or terminal illness, losing a loved one, or experiencing sexual assault—not only show incredible resilience but actually thrive in the aftermath of the traumatic event.”

Psychologist George Bonanno, who coined the term resilience, notes that “Large numbers of people manage to endure the temporary upheaval of loss or potentially traumatic events remarkably well, with no apparent disruption in their ability to function at work or in close relationships, and seem to move on to new challenges with apparent ease.”

And this can absolutely include you.

Protective Factors

Trauma researchers Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun outline seven indicators of posttraumatic growth:

  1. “Greater appreciation of life
  2. Greater appreciation and strengthening of close relationships
  3. Increased compassion and altruism
  4. The identification of new possibilities or a purpose in life
  5. Greater awareness and utilization of personal strengths
  6. Enhanced spiritual development
  7. Creative growth”

These are due to the process of self-discovery that takes places on the road to healing.

An Opportunity to Realize Ourselves

“A key factor that allows us to turn adversity into advantage is the extent to which we fully explore our thoughts and feelings surrounding the event,” says Kaufman. That is, the self-exploration that the healing process requires can have far-reaching benefits in our lives.

Healing from trauma and addiction isn’t easy, but it allows us to find new meaning. And sometimes, getting there leads us down some interesting paths.

Unexpected Pathways Back to Wholeness

Healing can happen in a myriad of different ways, and many people are surprised at what turns out to work best for them. They’re often surprised at how much personal growth they achieve – and how much personal power they emerge with – as a result of their shift in perspective.

Trauma doesn’t have to break us for life. In fact, we can create from our trauma by transforming our struggles into positive change.

Treatment at The Sanctuary

At The Sanctuary, we treat trauma and addiction using a holistic, non-12-Step model. This means that instead of believing your condition is lifelong, we believe that full recovery is possible.

One of our former clients describes her experience with our alternative approach:

“I knew that the AA model just didn’t resonate. Because I didn’t feel like I was a permanently damaged, sick individual. Even though I knew the behaviors I was doing weren’t healthy. What you do here changes you – literally, physiologically. That’s part of the whole approach here. This program is based on the understanding that what we do and how we think creates who we are, moment to moment. I’m still dealing with the same challenges that I had, but I have a very different way of viewing those challenges.”

Brain-body Restoration: Deconditioning From Trauma

Trauma affects your mind, body and spirit just as much as any addiction. That’s why our body-brain restoration program takes a multifaceted approach to healing all parts of you. This includes (but is not limited to):

Emotional and Energetic Healing

We often build stories around our traumas that are designed to protect our wounds. But in the long run, these limiting beliefs come to constrict our self-expression and growth. In the first stage of our healing journey, you’ll identify these stories – and then learn to let them go in a supported way.

Restoring Your Physical Health

Clearing your body of toxic substances is the first step to recovering from any substance addiction. This is also true for trauma and PTSD, which flood your body with stress chemicals that are harmful to your health. We take an intensive approach to healing the body through superfood nutrition, supplement protocols, regular bodywork and optional IV drip therapies.

“Rewiring” the Brain

Your brain adapts to anything you do repeatedly. This is especially true of addiction. Using our understanding of epigenetics and neuroplasticity, our program encourages the growth of new neural pathways that optimize health, instead of detracting from it.

Our former client reports the differences she notices after completing our program:

“My body feels different. My mind feels different. The substances are out of my body. So I’m moving in the world with a different sensibility and a sense of clarity. Just waking up every morning and feeling clear – having a clear mind and body – has been a profound relief. The world feels and looks different. And my problems feel different.”

Professional Guidance for Your Personal Journey

At The Sanctuary, we don’t see you as having something wrong with you, or treat you as such. We see ourselves as facilitators on your journey of empowerment. We intentionally expose our clients to a wide array of therapies so they can discover what works best for them. And they’re often surprised by what resonates with them or leads to a breakthrough. Because – as Tedeschi and Calhoun prove – sometimes pathways to healing are unexpected.

You have everything you need to succeed. Sometimes, when you’re in a dark place, you just need someone to help you see it.

Our client recalls how she needed to change, but knew she needed extra help to do so:

“I had inklings for a long time that I needed to change how I was living, and I kept trying to do it on my own. But it wasn’t manageable anymore. I felt, for decades, that I had been managing it. But it just kept getting more extreme. I had this feeling like, ‘I’ve got to do something. I need help.’”

Once she came to The Sanctuary, she says, she learned how essential our healers and therapists were in her progress:

“It was therapy, but it wasn’t just sitting and talking about stuff. It was moving through this process with the support of these people, each playing their role using their professional and personal wisdom.”

Finding a Sense of Safety

When you’re traumatized, feeling safe is a prerequisite to being able to effectively do anything. That’s why we take special care to establish this before beginning the deeper, more vulnerable work of healing.

The first thing clients notice when they arrive at The Sanctuary is our warm, accepting family atmosphere. We eat meals together, form genuine bonds with each other, and respect you as an equal. There’s no judgment or pressure; you’re invited to settle in and relax. The work of healing your trauma is challenging, to be sure, and it’s important to feel safe, seen, and supported as you begin on this journey.

Overcoming the Challenges of Trauma and Addiction

Trauma and addiction are some of life’s greatest challenges. But if you’re ready to take them on, you can do so in a supported way. And as Kaufman says, you can “come out stronger, more creative, and with a deeper sense of meaning that we ever had before.”

Our program graduate says of her life after The Sanctuary:

“Now, I realize that there are other ways that I can meet my needs. I think that’s the biggest piece for me, specifically, that The Sanctuary taught. And it’s taught in a way that’s very empowering and expansive, that’s not based on, ‘Don’t drink.’ It’s based on, ‘Why would I want to drink when I have access to fulfilling my needs in a way that’s much, much more satisfying?’”

You have means of fulfilling your needs that are much more satisfying than a life of addiction. To learn how our powerful healing program can help you access them, contact us today.

Kelley Alexander JD. photo

Kelley Alexander JD.  is the co-director of The Sanctuary at Sedona and has worked over the last decade to develop its innovative Integrative Addiction Recovery Program that has helped hundreds of clients to be recovered from addiction and co-occurring disorders. Through her pioneering work, Kelley and her team at The Sanctuary also work with clients to overcome issues related to codependency, anxiety, depression, and PTSD. A JD and former practicing attorney, Kelley holds a BA in World Religions and has done graduate work in psychology. She is an ordained minister, certified shamanic breathwork facilitator, and a graduate of the Four Winds Healing The Light Body School, the premier energy medicine program founded by Alberto Villoldo. Kelley has also been a student of Dr. Joe Dispenza since 2009. She is a member of the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology and the Institute for Holistic Addiction Studies. She is a frequent lecturer at seminars and conferences throughout the United States.
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