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Connection Between Trauma and Addiction

Connection Between Trauma and Addiction

connection between trauma and addiction

Addiction can result from a variety of things, one of them being trauma.

Addiction can result from a variety of things, one of them being trauma. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event, such as an accident, natural disaster, or sexual assault.1 As a Philadelphia addiction center, we know that there’s a connection between trauma and addiction. Many people turn to substance abuse as a way to cope with the aftermath of these traumatic events. Unfortunately, this only makes things worse.


What’s A Traumatic Experience?

Fearing for your life, experiencing intense pain, or witnessing a violent act or tragic incident all refer to traumatic experiences. Reactions to these types of situations may vary from person to person, depending on their resiliency. While people of any age can experience trauma, children are usually more impacted than adults. Recovering from trauma also depends on the kind the individual experienced. Some forms of trauma are repeated, like child abuse. Additional common forms of trauma include car accidents, bullying, sexual assault, domestic violence, natural disasters, or struggling with a life-threatening condition.

Each person is affected differently by these types of incidents, so the effects of trauma can vary in severity from person to person. Shock, anger, and denial are common reactions immediately after the incident has occurred.


Some traumatic experience examples include:

  • Natural disaster
  • Rape
  • Sexual assault
  • Bullying
  • Violence
  • Unstable life at home
  • Intense pain
  • Battling a chronic disease
  • Verbal or mental abuse
  • Neglect


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder that occurs when a person doesn’t recover from the effects of a traumatic experience. Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks, anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the incident. According to the National Council for Behavioral Health (NCBH), 70 percent of adults in the United States (223.4 million people) have experienced some type of trauma at least once.2 The link between addiction and trauma is also just as common. The NCBH shared that trauma is a risk factor in almost all behavioral health and substance abuse disorders.2

At Banyan Treatment Centers Philadelphia, we offer a trauma treatment program that addresses the impact of psychological trauma and addiction. We understand that trauma and substance abuse disorders must be treated individually to help the patient recover.


Signs of Trauma

People who have suffered from a traumatic experience or childhood trauma may display various psychological and behavioral symptoms. These individuals often become stuck in a loop of reliving the incident and are unable to heal. Trauma leads to physical symptoms like anxiety. Continuously experiencing flashbacks or having thoughts about the incident can eventually make it difficult for the person to differentiate between an actual emergency and their remembrance of the event. While they may try to suppress their struggles, there are certain symptoms of trauma that are difficult to conceal.


Some common signs and symptoms of trauma include:

  • Mood swings or unpredictable emotions
  • Erratic behavior
  • Excessive or inappropriate emotional outbursts
  • Lack of confidence or severe timidity
  • Eating disorders
  • Extreme changes in physical appearance (getting a lot of piercings, cutting off all your hair, dying your hair a different color)
  • Relationship problems
  • Problems relating to others
  • Frequent flashbacks of the incident
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches


What is the Connection Between Trauma and Addiction?

The human brain is very adaptive, thanks to something called plasticity. Thanks to plasticity, the brain can adapt to anything that we experience in life. From the smallest of things to the most impactful experiences, the brain expands and allows us to learn new skills and make new memories as we go through life. Everything we do causes neurons in the brain to grow, change, or break to make the necessary adjustments. But what does this have to do with trauma and alcoholism or drug addiction?

Plasticity is also the reason why traumatic experiences follow people into their adulthood. These events often shape the way a person thinks, behaves, and connects with people and situations. As the mind adapts to the trauma they’ve experienced, they may be on “high alert” for certain situations. Incidents that may be mild to a person who hasn’t suffered a traumatic event may seem life-threatening for someone who has. The connection between childhood trauma and alcoholism or drug addiction can also be attributed to maltreatment and neglect. A lack of proper nutrients can affect brain development and repeatedly experiencing trauma can affect the levels of a person’s cortisol or stress hormones. If you’ve ever seen any movies about addiction, the individual with a substance use disorder often experiences some form of trauma.

Furthermore, the symptoms of trauma can drive someone to abuse drugs or alcohol. These substances promise temporary relief but only make things worse. A person with PTSD who does not receive mental health treatment is more likely to engage in substance abuse to cope with their symptoms. The longer a person abuses drugs or alcohol, the more likely they are to develop an addiction. When a mental illness and addiction occur simultaneously, it’s known as a co-occurring disorder. We offer Philadelphia substance abuse programs and therapies to target the long-term psychological effects of drug abuse and trauma.

Trauma is not a joke, and more people struggle with symptoms of trauma than we realize. If you or someone you know uses drugs or alcohol, we can help. Whether it’s caused by mental illness or experimentation, our team at Banyan Philadelphia can make recovery possible. Call us now at 888-280-4763


Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.
Connection Between Trauma and Addiction
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