The Connection Between Trauma and Addiction

Many people have a preconceived notion that people with drug addictions started their drug use because of a traumatic experience in life, but could it be the other way around? Can drug addiction cause trauma?

Traumatic experiences have a strong link with addiction, no matter which came first. Treatment facilities such as The Recovery Team are available in the United States to help individuals overcome trauma-related addiction and regain sobriety.

Key Takeaways

Trauma and addiction are strongly related to each other. Their deadly combination can make an individual’s mental health suffer the most. This post will tell you:

  • Traumatic events in the life of an individual can lead to drug addiction and substance use disorder.
  • There are different types of trauma, such as domestic violence, physical assault, natural disasters, illness, etc.
  • Trauma contributes to drug addiction and alcoholism, affecting an individual’s overall health.
  • The Recovery Team offers treatment for trauma and addiction to overcome these conditions.

Seek professional treatment from The Recovery Team for drug addiction or other mental health issues. Call us at (800) 817-1247.


American Physiological Association explains that trauma is an emotional reaction to a tragic event such as an accident, rape, or natural disaster.

Trauma affects individuals in different ways, and it should be treated seriously. Stress can prevent a child’s or adult’s brain from developing normally.

Traumatic events change and shape you in different ways. These experiences alter the way you perceive the world and how you see yourself, whether they were encountered as a child or as an adult.

It is not unusual to learn that someone who has gone through a terrible event now battles addiction. Trauma too frequently results in alcohol addiction or drug abuse.

What causes this to occur? Trauma and addiction are fatally correlated. There is still hope if you or a loved one suffers from a substance abuse issue due to trauma.

Drug Use Statistics

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), traumatic experiences might act as catalysts for substance abuse. According to NIH data, marijuana was the most commonly used illicit substance in 2019, with 38 percent of high school seniors admitting to using it.

Unbelievably, 11.8 percent of eighth graders admitted to using marijuana. Additionally, more than half of high school graduates admitted to drinking alcohol the prior year, and 11.7 percent reported using nicotine regularly.

Trauma Effects on the Brain

There are many chemicals inside an individual’s brain, and trauma may disturb the concentration and production of these chemicals.

Trauma causes the release of harmful stress hormones in the brain, which over time, harms the brain. Long-term stress can cause the brain to change, affecting behavior and emotions.

Our brains don’t work correctly after experiencing trauma. We enter a state of survival. Our brains focus all our mental and physical energy on addressing the present threat until it no longer exists.

In typical circumstances, this condition gradually dissipates. But, on occasion, our original trauma response endures, making it challenging to perform as we would like. Trauma can alter how we feel, think, and behave long after the initial event. Not only can we feel trauma after being in a dangerous or violent environment, but our relationships can also traumatize us.

For individuals, trauma can be nightmares, flashbacks, persistent tension, anger, loneliness, intrusive memories and thoughts, self-harming action, and others.

Types of Trauma

In an individual’s life, multiple types of traumatic events can happen. The effect of every situation is different on an individual, so you should understand that two individuals can react in different ways to a situation. The types of traumas are listed below:

Physical Assault

When someone is continuously hit, jumped, or beaten up, it is called a physical assault. The perpetrator can be a stranger or someone the victim knows. The physical health of the trauma victims is usually suffered due to physical abuse.

Sexual Assault

When someone is molested or raped, it is sexual assault. One of the most common types of traumatic experiences is sexual assault.

Domestic Violence

When someone is assaulted inside the home, it is considered domestic violence. Parental or spousal abuse is both possible. Physical abuse can destroy the mental health of an individual, and this can be a source of trauma.

Emotional Abuse

When a person tries to manipulate another person by criticizing, embarrassing, shaming, or blaming them using their emotions, that behavior is known as emotional abuse.

Parental Neglect

When a parent fails to give their child the resources they need to survive and grow, it may constitute parental neglect.

It may be a lack of food, unsanitary living quarters, or verbal, physical, or sexual abuse. Parental neglect and adverse childhood experiences can also lead to childhood trauma.


Another extremely typical kind of unpleasant encounter is bullying. It frequently causes problems that last until adulthood. Bullying can have negative effects regardless of how big or minor the event is.

Natural Disasters

Those who experience natural catastrophes may lose their homes, loved ones, or daily routines. These events may result in PTSD or other upsetting events. Although it is sometimes disregarded, PTSD brought on by natural disasters is a major issue.


Accidents such as work-related injuries, car wrecks, and any other injury due to a severe accident can be a source of trauma. Accidents frequently cause severe PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and flashbacks.


If any individual is experiencing some long-term or chronic illness, it can lead to trauma. Years after the sickness has passed, symptom-related flashbacks or disturbing feelings may still occur.

How Trauma Leads to Addiction

There is a significant connection between trauma and addiction. Individuals who have faced childhood traumas in the past are more likely to get addicted in the future.

Someone who has experienced at least four traumatic events is far more likely to acquire alcohol or substance use disorder.

The environment that a person is in might also be a key link. Certain substances can become a form of self-medication for someone who requires a way to manage when around them.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), trauma is any incident or situation that a person goes through that has an ongoing effect on their mental, physical, social, or emotional health because it was either physically or emotionally destructive.

Addiction and traumatic events are interlinked, and trauma can lead to a severe addiction in an individual. The majority of people who battle addiction have gone through at least one traumatic event. Addiction and various types of trauma are associated in certain ways:

Addiction and Childhood Experiences

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center claims that adverse childhood experiences can predict later alcohol exposure, increased risks of mental health disorders, use of cigarettes, prescription drug use, the likelihood of substance use disorders, and dependency.

Addiction and PTSD

When an individual experiences trauma, they may face post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This connection is thought to be the result of a person trying to self-medicate in order to better control the symptoms of PTSD.

It is also thought that this relationship can work both ways. New traumatic incidents are more likely to occur in those who battle with substance use disorder, and vice versa.

Addiction and Physical Trauma

If an individual experiences physical abuse and trauma, it can contribute to a lot of pain in the body. Most of the time, healthcare providers prescribe painkillers to ease the pain.

A person is more inclined to take more than the recommended dose to help with pain relief if suffering from severe physical trauma, but higher doses can increase the risk of addiction. This is thought to be one of the primary causes of the current opioid epidemic in the United States.

Addiction and Emotional Trauma

It can be more challenging to identify emotional trauma. Bullying and emotional abuse can cause later-life mental health problems like sadness or anxiety.

Due to the possibility that they may use drugs or alcohol to dull the pain, cope with PTSD, or flee, those who experience emotional trauma are more prone to struggle with addiction.

Co-Occurring Disorders Resulting from Trauma and Addiction

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 21.2 million Americans in 2018 satisfied the criteria for a substance-related disorder.

Overdose deaths have risen in the past 20 years, and in 2019, over 70,000 people passed away from drug overdoses, 70 percent of which were brought on by opioids like morphine and fentanyl.

Trauma can result in substance abuse and addiction, contributing to persistent adverse effects. These effects can include a dysfunctional environment in the family, serious health issues, negative economic effects, and premature death of a child.

If an individual continues substance use for a long-time due to trauma, it can lead to addiction. Hence, it results in alcohol use disorder or substance use disorder.

The likelihood of addiction is increased across classifications by exposure to early trauma and harmful elements, including poor physical and socioeconomic health.

Treatment for Trauma and Addiction

If an individual is facing long-term side effects due to trauma, then it can lead to adverse and life-threatening conditions. The same can be said with addiction. Therefore, if you are facing addiction due to trauma, seek help from a rehab center, therapist, or medical professional.

The following treatment options are offered by the rehab center for the treatment of trauma and addiction:


Rehabilitation is the process by which drug addiction is treated. There are two types of rehab: residential or inpatient rehab and outpatient rehab treatment.

In residential rehab, the patients will stay at the rehab facility 24/7. However, in outpatient rehab, the patient can stay at their home, but they have to visit the facility three to four times a week.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

A type of treatment known as dual diagnosis treatment considers both the substance use problem and any underlying mental health issues or traumatic events.

Recognizing that it is a complicated condition and that both issues must be addressed for long-term healing with fewer possible negative health impacts is the main goal of dual diagnosis treatment.


One of the most important and effective treatments when it comes to overcoming trauma and addiction is therapy. These therapies include; CBT and EMDR.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is typically used to teach the patient new coping mechanisms and stress management techniques. The patient can process the trauma in a secure environment during therapy. CBT frequently coexists with groups and programs for addiction recovery.

The psychotherapy treatment known as EMDR, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, was designed to lessen the distress brought on by traumatic memories.

A patient undergoing EMDR will briefly recall traumatic events while concentrating on an outside object or stimulus. This therapy could include hand-tapping, music, or a variety of other activities.

How does trauma lead to addiction?

Traumatic events can lead to a stressful life and addiction. Trauma and ongoing stress can result in a dysregulated stress response, which may increase a person’s susceptibility to addictive behaviors. Depersonalization and numbness brought on by trauma may increase a person’s susceptibility to addictive behaviors. If there is any childhood trauma, then it can increase the risk for addiction in their life.

What percentage of addicts have a history of trauma?

According to studies, 25 percent of people who have endured traumatic experiences and 40 percent of people who have PTSD face problems with substance addiction. Up to two-thirds of all people with addiction had some traumatic incident when they were young. These people might also take after family members they grew up with regarding substance abuse and self-medication.