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trauma and addiction

When someone experiences a traumatic event, they may struggle with overcoming its emotional or physical effects. They may turn to drugs or alcohol to try to manage their symptoms. Likewise, someone with an addiction is generally more vulnerable to traumatic experiences. The link between trauma and addiction can be a vicious cycle for some individuals.

Link Between Trauma and Addiction

Substance use problems and exposure to traumatic events are strongly linked . Trauma can result from an event or an experience such as abuse, a criminal attack, an act of violence, an accident, or going into battle. Many people who undergo these types of trauma will turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to manage their symptoms.

In a vicious cycle, the increased substance use will often lead to additional trauma experiences, leading to further use of drugs or alcohol. Those individuals who are addicted to these substances may also be more susceptible to traumatic events such as violence or crime. Trauma-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, are seen in people with substance use disorders as well.

Trauma and addiction create serious problems for the individual’s physical and mental health. These linked disorders can also affect the lives of those around them, including impacting relationships with friends and family members.


PTSD is often thought of as something that happens to members of the military and first responders. In fact, PTSD can develop in anyone who has experienced a traumatic incident. The symptoms can begin with three months of the incident but can emerge months or even years later. When a person experiences PTSD, their symptoms will interfere with their daily life, including their work and their relationships with others.

PTSD symptoms can include flashbacks of the event or experience, avoiding places or people that are reminders of the incident, being easily startled, having difficulty concentrating and difficulty sleep, having angry or aggressive outbursts, and engaging in risky or destructive behavior, including abusing drugs or alcohol.

Alcohol Abuse and PTSD

When an individual is stressed and anxious as a result of experiencing a trauma in their life, they may be more tempted to use drugs or alcohol as a temporary relief or distraction. However, this can create more problems for the individual, both for their physical and their mental health.

Substance abuse can reduce a person’s ability to concentrate, to sleep restfully, to be productive, and to cope in a positive way with their traumatic memories and stressors. It can increase the sense of being numb emotionally, as well as their social isolation, depression, anger, and irritability. People who abuse alcohol and have PTSD often feel they need to constantly be on their guard, which can be wearing on them.

Trauma and addiction to alcohol are often seen together, as traumatized individuals are more likely to abuse alcohol both before and after they are diagnosed with PTSD. Research has found that:

  • One-fourth to three-fourths of those individuals who have survived abusive or violent traumatic experiences report problematic alcohol use.
  • One-tenth to one-third of those individuals who survive trauma related to an illness, accident, or disaster report problematic alcohol use, especially if they are troubled by persistent health problems or pain.
  • Up to 80% of Vietnam veterans seeking PTSD treatment have alcohol use disorders.
  • Veterans over the age of 65 with PTSD are at increased risk for attempted suicide when they abuse alcohol and experience the complications of depression.
  • Women exposed to trauma in their life show an increased risk for an alcohol use disorder.
  • Men and women reporting sexual abuse have higher rates of alcohol and drug use disorders than those who have not experienced such trauma.

Other Psychological or Physical Issues

Issues with mental health and physical health can also be a concern for someone experiencing trauma and addiction. About half of those adults with both alcohol use disorders and PTSD have one or more physical or psychological issues. Anxiety disorders, including phobias and panic attacks, mood disorders such as depression, attention deficit disorder, and abuse of prescription drugs, illegal drugs, and alcohol are often seen in people who have experienced trauma.

Those individuals are also more likely to experience chronic physical illnesses, such as heart disease or diabetes. They will also suffer from chronic physical pains as well, sometimes as a result of a traumatic injury or illness but sometimes with no clear physical cause.

Trauma and Addiction Treatment at Hope by the Sea

If you have experienced trauma in your life and are struggling to deal with the symptoms, we are here to help with your anxiety, mood disorder, and addiction. At Hope by the Sea, we work with you to create a personalized treatment regimen that will be effective for you and your situation. Please contact Hope by the Sea immediately for assistance. Hope Starts Here!