How Trauma Can Lead to Addiction

In her Huffington Post blog “The Road to Addiction,” Carole Bennett discusses how trauma can be a trigger for addiction. “Trauma is an incident or occurrence that happens inexplicably or without warning,” she writes. “It is categorized as an overwhelming life-changing experience (and) is typically a physical and/or emotional shock to the very fiber of one’s being.”

She explains that trauma—whether it’s in the form of a plane crash, car accident, near-death experience or major life-alteration—presents an imbalance to our emotional and mental systems, and that a person’s response to trauma can result in intense fear, horror, or helplessness.

Although one can have a substance abuse issue prior to the traumatic event, trauma often “paves the way from abuse to addiction.” Bennett explains that addiction resulting from trauma is unlike other triggers where there is more of a “conscious intent on deliberately getting ‘high’ or intoxicated.”

We all experience varying degrees of trauma in our lives, and everyone handles it differently. Some people can experience “shock-wave shivers” when re-living the incident, while others almost have an out-of-body experience when memories of the event are conjured up. Bennett writes that similar to depression, “trauma can lead to self-medication (prescription or otherwise) to numb the pain in at attempt to dilute the reality of the occurrence; which in turn can lead to dependency and/or addiction.”

Bennett writes that it is imperative to locate a trained Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder specialist while the trauma is still fresh, “before this horrific experience can burrow and establish psychological roots.”

She advises that trauma not be allowed to ferment, “or the injured party could take their recovery into their own hands with self-medication, which could lead to addiction.” If addiction becomes a reality, the person now has two issues to deal with: the unresolved traumatic event and addiction to alcohol or drugs.

“Trauma should never be taken lightly,” she writes, especially when it involves a child. Bennett explains that for a child, trauma can include anything from bathroom accidents to being picked on by classmates. Many events in a child’s formative years become “larger than life and therefore more traumatic.”

Bennett explains that many parents deny that their child has experienced any trauma or downplay the significance of some events. But parents must take appropriate action to place their child in the care of a professional to talk about their experiences in a safe environment.

Regardless of whether you are dealing with a child or an adult, Bennett warns that if these traumas are not dealt with as soon as possible, it can result in “unfinished business and could rear its ugly head later in life in the form of addictive behavior.”