Trauma and Addiction: What You Need To Know

in Addiction
Published Jan 5, 2021
trauma and addiction

Given that most Americans have faced adverse experiences in one form or another during their lives, trauma has become a genuine epidemic in the United States. Trauma not only stays with individuals long after the experience, but it very often devolves into something much worse down the line. It takes time for the emotional impacts of trauma to heal on their own, if they ever do at all. In fact, it’s very telling that the word “trauma” itself is derived from the Greek word traumatikos, which translates to “the wound.”

Trauma expert Dr. Jamie Marich, who has written a number of books on the link between trauma and addiction, first drew our attention to the origin of the word “trauma.” In a guest post written for us earlier this year, Marich further expanded upon the wound analogy when it comes to discussing trauma: 

“Wounds come in many shapes and sizes. There are open wounds, which include incisions (such as those from knives), lacerations (tears), abrasions (grazes), punctures, penetration wounds, and gunshot wounds,” she wrote. “Then, you have closed wounds, such as contusions (bruises), hematomas (blood tumors), crush injuries, or the slowly forming chronic wounds that can develop from conditions like diabetic ulcers. Each wound has its own distinct character, and various causes can lead to the respective wounding. More importantly, different wounds can affect different people in different ways.”

When someone fails to get proper treatment for a physical wound they’ve sustained, it can slow and complicate the healing process. The same is true of emotional wounds, Marich contends, as they require thorough treatment, too. “If an individual who has experienced a major emotional trauma doesn’t obtain the proper conditions to heal (which can include formal mental health treatment), it likely will take longer for the trauma to heal. Other symptoms may develop in the process.”

Even worse, if someone doesn’t receive the treatment they need, they’ll also find themselves at risk of becoming re-wounded in the future. “A major factor when drawing parallels between physical and emotional trauma is the notion of re-wounding,” Marich observed. “It’s bad enough for a person to experience a traumatic event and not have the optimal conditions. But emotional wounding can take on an even greater degree of pain than physical wounding, because physical wounds can leave outward evidence of their impact. People can be more likely to show us sympathy in the wake of physical injury, yet fail to validate us when the wounds are unseen.”

Trauma and addiction

Unfortunately, the connection between trauma and chronic illness is an obvious one. Substance use orders, for one, are a common way in which trauma manifests itself. 

Most experts agree that the leading analysis of trauma and addiction is the Adverse Childhood Experience Study (the ACE study). Led by Dr. Vincent Felitti, the ACE study measured the relationship between severe childhood stress and a wide range of addictions. The study’s findings established a clear, provable connection between negative childhood experiences and the onset of physical disease and mental disorders in adulthood. 

The ACE study showed that a child who had endured four or more adverse childhood experiences were five times more likely to develop substance use disorder later in life. Males were especially prone to drug abuse, the study discovered, revealing that a boy with four or more ACEs was 46 times more likely to become an intravenous drug user.  

Felliti and his team of researchers concluded that the higher the number of traumas (or ACEs) someone endured, the greater their risk of negative outcomes in later life. This is why clinicians like Dr. Marich and our team at Gallus emphasize the importance of being trauma-informed when it comes to our care of patients with substance use disorders. 

Trauma-informed addiction treatment

Our Executive Clinical Director, Steve Carleton, LCSW, says that it’s critical for clinicians to assess patients for trauma as soon as possible in the treatment process.  

By and large, ACEs and other traumas oftentimes go unnoticed. “Recent studies and estimates demonstrate that up to 75 percent of people struggling with substance misuse have a trauma history. Substances often are the solution to distressing memories and emotional disturbances,” Carleton noted. “Numbing and avoiding emotional and physical pain with substances is a natural and normal human response. Trauma often goes overlooked because addiction is a much louder problem and trauma is silent.”

Untreated trauma can severely undermine the recovery process and risk someone’s overall success in finding long-term sobriety. No matter the intensity of a single trauma nor a high number of traumas experienced by one individual, recovery is absolutely possible. In fact, there are many treatment providers that are trauma-informed and uniquely equipped to guide someone to find lasting, personalized recovery.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, we are here to help. At Gallus Medical Detox Centers, we bring compassion to the commotion. Peace to the pain. Empowerment to the powerless. If you or someone you know needs support with addiction problems, bring us your battle. Call us today and take the best, first step towards recovery: (720) 704-1432

You might find the following blogs helpful:

How To Treat Trauma

Guest Post: Trauma as a Wound by Dr. Jamie Marich

Ways to Celebrate New Year’s without Drinking

How to Tell Friends & Family You Don’t Drink