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Connection Between Trauma and Substance Use Disorder

February 22, 2023 , Agape Treatment

male patient sitting with clinician discussing traumatic events in an office setting

 

Trauma and Substance Use Disorder (SUD) often go hand in hand. Traumatic experiences serve as a significant contributor to the development of addictive behaviors. Research has shown that individuals who have experienced trauma, such as abuse, neglect, or violence, are more likely to struggle with substance abuse and addiction. Understanding the connection between trauma and SUD is crucial in effectively addressing and treating these complex issues. This page will delve into the underlying mechanisms linking trauma and addiction and how addressing both can lead to lasting recovery.

What is Trauma?

A traumatic event can be a source of intense emotional stress and can negatively affect one’s psychological well-being. Trauma can take many forms, including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, neglect, natural disasters, and violence. Trauma can also occur as a result of experiencing a traumatic event, such as a car accident or the death of a loved one.

Trauma-informed care is becoming increasingly important in treating individuals with substance use disorder (SUD). Understanding the connection between trauma and substance use disorder is essential, as many individuals who struggle with addiction also have a history of trauma. Research has shown that individuals with drug addiction and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) are more likely to experience adverse outcomes in their recovery journey.

What are the Characteristics of Someone Suffering from Trauma?

Individuals who have experienced trauma may have a wide range of symptoms, including anxiety, depression, nightmares, and flashbacks. 

They may also have difficulty trusting others, feel detached from their emotions, and struggle to control their thoughts and behavior. Some may also experience physical symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and muscle tension. They may avoid certain places, people, or situations that remind them of their trauma. They may also struggle with memory and concentration. 

Trauma can cause individuals to engage in self-destructive behavior, such as substance abuse or risky sexual behavior. They may even develop a condition like PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Trauma can also harm an individual’s relationships, making it challenging to maintain healthy connections with others.

Understanding Substance Use Disorder (SUD)

Substance use disorder is a term used to describe a pattern of substance abuse that leads to significant impairment in an individual’s daily life. SUD can manifest in various ways, from alcohol abuse to opioid addiction. The compulsive use of a substance characterizes it despite the negative consequences it may cause to the person’s physical, mental and social well-being. It can also be defined as a problematic substance use pattern leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.

How is SUD Diagnosed?

SUD is diagnosed through a combination of a clinical assessment and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) criteria. A mental health professional will conduct an evaluation and ask about a person’s substance use history. This includes the frequency and amount of use and any negative consequences resulting from substance use. 

Generally speaking, the clinician will be looking to verify that two or more of the following criteria have occurred within a rolling 12-month period:

  • Taking a substance in more significant amounts or for more extended periods than intended
  • Unsuccessful attempts to reduce or quit substance use
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of the substance
  • Persistent cravings or strong desire to use the substance
  • Neglecting important responsibilities at work, school, or home due to substance use
  • Continuing to use a substance despite negative social or interpersonal consequences
  • Giving up or reducing important activities because of substance use
  • Using a substance in hazardous situations
  • Continuing to use a substance despite physical or psychological problems caused or worsened by the substance use
How is SUD Developed?

The development of SUD is complex and can be influenced by various factors.

Genetics: Research has shown that individuals with a family history of substance abuse are more likely to develop SUD. This may be due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Environment: An individual’s environment plays a significant role in the development of SUD. Growing up in an environment where substance abuse is prevalent or experiencing traumatic events can increase the likelihood of developing SUD.

Mental Health: Individuals with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD are more likely to develop SUD. They may turn to substances to cope with their mental health symptoms. This is also known as co-occurring disorders or dual diagnosis.

Trauma Histories: As discussed earlier, individuals with trauma histories are more likely to develop SUD. Trauma can lead to negative consequences, including drug-seeking behavior, which can lead to the development of SUD.

It’s important to note that multiple factors can influence SUD development and it’s not only limited to the ones mentioned above. However, they are also some of the most commonly found in research. Each individual’s experience with SUD is unique. A comprehensive assessment is needed to understand their specific case’s underlying causes and contributing factors.

The Role of Trauma in the Development of Substance Use Disorder

Trauma is a significant risk factor for the development of SUD. People who have experienced traumatic events, such as physical or sexual abuse, may turn to substance abuse to cope with the emotional pain and trauma associated with their experiences. 

Trauma can lead to negative consequences, including drug-seeking behavior, which can lead to the development of SUD. It’s important to address the underlying trauma and provide trauma-informed care to treat SUD effectively.

Finding Help for Trauma and SUD

At Agape Treatment Center, we understand the connection between trauma and SUD. We offer trauma-informed care as part of our effective treatment program. Our dedicated team of experienced and caring addiction counselors assists individuals with trauma to overcome their addiction and heal from their past experiences.

Understanding the connection between trauma and substance use disorder is crucial in providing effective treatment for individuals struggling with addiction. Trauma-informed care can make a significant difference in the recovery process. 

Agape Treatment Center offers this approach as part of its comprehensive program. Suppose you or a loved one is struggling with trauma and SUD. In that case, we encourage you to reach out to Agape today. It can help to speak with an addiction expert and start your journey to recovery.