The causes of drug addiction are as varied and individual as the people who suffer from it, but the cycle of addiction remains the same across the board. Drugs and alcohol numb emotional or physical pain for a short time. But the original pain always returns—along with addiction-related problems with finances, relationships, work, and health. The resulting pain then leads to further substance abuse.
An infinite variety of causes for substance abuse means anyone can fall into the cycle of addiction. People of every age, class, race, culture, and social background are susceptible, and often, trauma is at the root of the addiction.
Trauma and self-medication
Trauma from an accident or crime, the death of a loved one, or another devastating incident can be psychologically damaging in unexpected ways. Even long after the event, memories of the trauma can trigger the brain to respond with the same physiological activities as those that occurred during the initial event—racing heart, shortness of breath, heightened senses, and feelings of helplessness and fear.
Unfortunately, without the tools provided by counseling and support groups or other forms of treatment, many trauma victims seek self-medication through drugs and alcohol.
Self-medication and substance abuse
While drugs and alcohol might temporarily numb pain and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—including flashbacks, nightmares, insomnia, panic attacks, and extreme startle responses—they do nothing to address the trauma itself.
Clinically speaking, self-medication falls under the “misuse” stage of addiction, which soon becomes “abuse” once the body develops a tolerance to the substance and requires higher doses for the same effect.
In addition to the physical bodily damage of increased drug and alcohol use, the “escape from reality” means the original trauma is not only left unaddressed, but it is also compounded by new problems with relationships, finances, and work that are common results of substance abuse.
The cycle of trauma and addiction
As the body’s tolerance continues to grow, the need to satisfy cravings for drugs and alcohol becomes the focus of the addict’s daily life until intervention takes place. Sometimes the intervention is self-motivated, as the addict’s feelings of remorse and shame over their situation prompts them to quit.
Unfortunately, for those whose addiction is rooted in psychological and emotional pain, without treatment and counseling, “quitting” is often temporary. Many addicts return to drugs and alcohol as long as their trauma remains unresolved, thus continuing the cycle of addiction.
Breaking the cycle
As long as trauma continues to weigh on a recovering addict, the possibility of relapse is high. The only way to break the cycle of addiction is to treat both the addiction and the trauma through comprehensive treatment programs. Effective addiction treatment programs will help correct the neurological imbalances caused by drug and alcohol dependence while also tackling the root trauma through counseling or other psychological therapies. Aftercare plans are also essential to the recovery process, providing patients with the skills, tools, and support they need to stay clean and sober.
It’s important to note that some effects of trauma will never “go away,” but managing the effects and learning to cope without drugs and alcohol can help patients to lead productive, enjoyable lives.
We can help
Alvarado Parkway Institute has been a leading provider of chemical dependency services in the San Diego community for over thirty-five years, helping people get sober and stay sober through our customized inpatient and outpatient programs. If you or a loved one is ready to make a change and overcome the obstacles and challenges associated with trauma and addiction, please reach out via the contact form on our website. Or call our 24-hour referral and crisis line at 619-667-6125.