The Relevance of Trauma to Addiction

Oct 28, 2021

Often, we find that stress leads us to dysfunctional behavior. When we have a history of trauma, our ability to cope is limited. Research has shown that persons with a history of trauma have higher rates of reactivity and are more prone to falling into the cycle of abuse of alcohol and/or other substances. 

Three Elements of Stress and Trauma

Research has shown that there are three main elements to stress. In trauma, we find that these three elements are also found and can be overwhelming to both children and adults. Also, please note that many children who have experienced trauma are also victimized in adulthood. If you have been victimized, your experience has changed you and made you a stronger person. Yes, you may have difficulties, but your survival shows your resilience. 

#1. Uncertainty

As a child, when we experience uncertainty, we react with coping skills intended to reduce our stress reaction. We want to self-soothe and experience something upon which we can rely. We may have had a childhood filled with neglect and abandonment where we were uncertain if we would have food in the evening. The possibility of abuse is also there. We may have been uncertain whether or not we were even safe. The same is true in adulthood. We want reliability and an expectation of our lives and experiences following a certain pattern. So, we turn to various behaviors when our lives are uncertain. We might feel like we can rely on alcohol and/or other substances to reduce our stress levels, which is why recovery is so difficult. 

#2. Lack of Information

When we are first learning how to cope with stressful events, we do not have all of the information about what can happen and when. Our lack of information increases our stress load. As children, we may have lived in uncertainty and thought our environment was normal and there was no help, nor was there hope of a brighter future. We had no idea what normal was, and this, too, stressed us out, leading us to behaviors that were unhealthy and only worsened our outlooks. 

#3. Loss of Control

Nothing is worse than feeling as though you have no control over a situation. As children in traumatic situations, we had no control. We were victims of circumstance and of persons who had more power than we did. As children, this loss of power over our safety was terrifying. As adults, living with this lack of control is angering and scary.

No matter your age, trauma impacts us by making us more reactive and more likely to seek out maladaptive coping strategies. While these skills do not really help us, the fact that they relieve our pain and suffering for the moment is real. However, the relief does not last, and we find ourselves turning time and time again to alcohol and/or other substances or behaviors that negatively impact our relationships, as well as personal and professional lives. 

While the trauma is never our fault, our reactions and behaviors used to cope with trauma are our responsibility. So, when looking into starting recovery, you need to make an honest assessment of your life and your history. 

Alcohol and/or other substances rewire your brain and make reward pathways more dependent upon alcohol and/or other substances for soothing your stress. Traumatic experiences also rewire the brain’s opiate and dopamine receptors, making self-soothing more difficult and potentially causing people to turn to maladaptive coping skills. 

The relationship between trauma and addiction is being studied more and more as practitioners realize the relationship between trauma and unhealthy coping skills. As you enter recovery, you will need to learn to replace your coping skills with healthier ones. You will also have to face the fact that, because of your history of trauma, you are more reactive to stress and may need additional support during stressful times. 

You are not alone. In this modern and scary world, many people have experienced trauma. Of those survivors, many are living full lives. You can, too. You have to be willing to do the work and face your trauma while learning how to cope with stress. You also have to learn how to cope without the use of alcohol and/or other substances. 

Good News

Recovery from childhood trauma is completely possible. So is recovery. Do not get bogged down by all the upcoming work you have to face. Take it one day at a time, and soon you will have learned how to de-stress by using positive coping strategies.

Some Positive Coping Strategies

There are many positive coping strategies to choose from: prayer, meditation, finding a meeting, calling a friend, engaging in hobbies, taking a walk/run/hike/swim, playing a game, writing a positive letter to yourself, or maybe just try breathing. Recovery is possible. Remember that.

Trauma affects each person differently but often causes more reactivity to stress and lowered ability to cope with said stress. Life can seem overwhelming and scary at the best of times and absolutely terrifying at the worst. You are not alone, and there is hope for a brighter future. If you or someone you know struggles with addiction to alcohol and/or other substances, you have the ability and strength to recover. At Renaissance Ranch, we offer a safe and clinically driven treatment option to help you overcome addiction and your past experiences. We are gospel-centered and believe in the power of every individual to overcome their circumstances. The time is now to seek recovery. We will help you develop the skills to cope with your life experiences. Please call us at (801) 308-8898 and begin your process of healing and recovery today. You deserve a brighter future, and we can help.