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The Link Between Trauma And Addiction

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), a traumatic event is described as “an event, or series of events, that causes moderate to severe stress reactions…[that are] characterized by a sense of horror, helplessness, serious injury, or the threat of serious injury or death.”

Every person is different, and as such, trauma is subjective. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder that can develop after an individual experiences trauma. It is important to note that an experience that one individual may perceive to be traumatic, another individual may not. Furthermore, the way an individual handles a trauma could drastically vary from person to person. The American Psychological Association asserts that women experience different types of trauma than men. 

woman after traumatic event

Trauma and Women

There are three main types of trauma, which include complex, chronic, and/ or acute. Complex trauma occurs as a result of exposure to multiple and varied traumatic events. Chronic trauma is when an individual experiences or is exposed to prolonged and/ or repeated trauma (i.e. abuse, domestic violence…etc.). Acute trauma occurs as a result of a single traumatic incident. Abuse of any kind (i.e. emotional, physical, verbal, sexual…etc.) can result in both short and long-term mental health effects, including PTSD, depression, and/ or anxiety. Although there are a variety of different types of trauma an individual may be exposed to one’s life, the National Alliance on Mental Illness report that women have a higher propensity to encounter traumas such as sexual assault, interpersonal violence, experience rape, and/ or sexual abuse as a child. The effects of trauma differ for men and women. Research has discovered that men with a history of trauma are likely to be more aggressive, whereas women often internalize the effects of trauma through developing depression and anxiety. 

Trauma and Addiction

There are several connections between trauma and addiction. Addiction is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a brain disorder that is characterized by habitually engaging in rewarding stimuli regardless of the consequences. While the precise reasoning behind why an individual develops an addiction remains unknown, there are certain risk factors that can increase an individual’s susceptibility to developing an addiction. These include environmental risk factors, genetic risk factors, psychological risk factors, socioeconomic risk factors, and exposure to trauma. A woman that has experienced trauma in her life may attempt to self medicate with drugs and/ or alcohol. When trauma goes unaddressed, it can cause debilitating affects on one’s ability to function in her daily life. 

A woman that struggles with addiction will prioritize satisfying her drug and/ or alcohol cravings above all else in her life. This can lead to dangerous choices, risky behaviors, as well as placing her in precarious situations that could lead to trauma. Due to the fact that every person is different, there is no universal order to which, addiction or trauma, develops first. Any woman that struggles with both addiction and trauma will have a unique experience; some women may develop an addiction then subsequently experience trauma, while others may experience trauma and later develop an addiction. An individual that struggles with addiction and another mental disorder is diagnosed with a dual diagnosis.

It has been noted that although women are at great risk for developing a variety of negative consequences following traumatic events, is highly common for a female to hesitate or completely avoid obtaining mental health treatment. However, the longer she goes without treatment, the greater she increases her risk for developing more severe and/ or longer-term side effects. A woman in need of treatment that struggles with addiction and has a history of trauma should make sure to select a treatment program that is capable of providing comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment. Understanding one’s trauma can be fundamental to her recovery process.

Further Information

Substance abuse and addiction can be incredibly dangerous.

If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse or addiction, please get help as soon as possible. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives. There is no reason to go through this alone. Please feel free to reach out to us for further information or with any questions regarding substance abuse or addiction. 

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