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Substance Abuse And Trauma

Substance Abuse and Trauma: Understanding the Connection and Finding a Path to Healing

Learn more about the connection between substance abuse and trauma and how to start the journey to healing.


Substance abuse and trauma are very intertwined. This is because each has been discovered to fuel and worsen the other. Trauma can trigger intense emotional pain and distress.

This can occur whether the trauma is from childhood abuse, combat experiences, or other sources. This may drive people to seek solace in drugs or alcohol.

However, temporary relief from substance use often comes at a steep cost. This is because addiction can quickly develop and spiral out of control. This will, in turn, further exacerbate feelings of despair and hopelessness.

Breaking the Cycle of Substance Misuse

This vicious cycle of substance abuse and trauma can be devastating, but it is not hopeless. Understanding the connection between substance abuse and trauma is crucial in breaking free from their grip. This understanding will also help you find a path to healing.

In this article, we will explore the complex interplay between substance abuse and trauma. We will also explore the factors that can increase the risk of developing an addiction following a traumatic event and strategies for overcoming addiction and reclaiming a life of health and happiness.

Whether you are struggling with addiction or seeking to support a loved one, the insights offered here can provide a valuable roadmap for the journey ahead.

What Is Trauma?

Trauma results from an extremely distressing experience or event. It can negatively affect an individual’s physical and emotional well-being. It also has major negative effects on psychological well-being.

Potential Causes of Trauma

There are several different possible causes of trauma. Some of these causes of trauma can include:1
  • Natural disasters
  • Serious accidents
  • Physical or sexual assault
  • Domestic violence
  • War or other forms of violence
  • Abuse
  • Sudden loss of a loved one
  • Ongoing stressors, such as poverty or discrimination

Effects of Trauma

The effects of trauma can be pervasive and long-lasting. They affect both the individual who experiences the trauma and those around them. This includes their family, friends, and community.2

Trauma Looks Different for Everyone

It’s important to note that everyone experiences trauma differently. What may be traumatic for one person may not be for another. Additionally, the effects of trauma can vary widely depending on several factors.
Some of these factors include:
  • The severity of the trauma
  • The age of the affected person
  • The developmental stage at the time of the trauma
  • Presence or absence of a support system

The Complexity of Trauma

Trauma is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that can have profound and lasting effects on an individual’s life. You should know that when trauma occurs together with substance abuse, the effects can be even more devastating.
This highlights the urgent need for effective prevention and treatment strategies for both substance abuse and trauma.

What Are The Risk Factors Of Trauma?

There are several risk factors that can increase a person’s chances of experiencing trauma. These factors may also increase the risk of developing substance abuse due to the trauma.

We can divide the risk factors into several categories. These include:
  • Individual risk factors
  • Familial risk factors
  • Social risk factors
  • Cultural risk factors

Individual Risk Factors

These are risk factors that are directly associated with the person in question. Individual risk factors for substance abuse and trauma include the following:
  • Genetics
  • Temperament
  • Previous exposure to trauma

Examples of Individual Risk Factors

For example, individuals with a family history of trauma or substance abuse may be more likely to experience trauma themselves. Because of this, they are also likely to develop substance abuse issues as a coping mechanism.
Additionally, people with certain temperamental traits, such as impulsivity or sensation-seeking, may be more likely to engage in risky behaviors. These behaviors increase their risk of substance abuse and trauma.

Familial Risk Factors

Familial trauma risk factors include family conflict and parental substance abuse. They also include parental mental health issues and childhood abuse or neglect.
Individuals who grow up in families with these types of risk factors are likely to experience substance abuse and trauma. They develop substance abuse to cope with the emotional pain and distress caused by the trauma.

Social Risk Factors

Social risk factors for substance abuse and trauma include things like:
  • Poverty
  • Discrimination
  • Exposure to violence or crime in one’s community
These risk factors can directly increase an individual’s risk of experiencing substance abuse and trauma.

Cultural Risk Factors

Cultural risk factors for substance abuse and trauma can include:
  • Cultural norms around substance use
  • Gender roles
  • Beliefs about mental health.
For example, people who grow up in cultures that stigmatize mental health issues or substance abuse may be less likely to seek help when they experience or develop substance abuse and trauma.

Effect of Adolescent Trauma on Adult Wellness

Trauma experienced in adolescence can have a significant impact on an individual in various ways. This includes emotional, psychological, and physical well-being well into adulthood.3
Additionally, trauma experienced during this period can increase the risk of developing substance abuse issues. These issues occur as a way of coping with the pain and distress caused by the trauma.
Substance abuse and trauma in adolescence can affect adult wellness in several ways, some of which are detailed below.

Increased Mental Illness Risk

Trauma in adolescence can increase the risk of developing mental health issues. This includes conditions like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
These mental health issues can lead to difficulty regulating emotions and impaired social functioning. Thus, they’ll cause a decreased quality of life. Individuals with mental health issues may also be more likely to use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate.

Relationship Problems

Trauma can lead to feelings of isolation and mistrust. This can result in difficulties in forming and maintaining healthy relationships. These relationship difficulties can impact an individual’s ability to form meaningful connections with others.
Because of this, many will experience further feelings of distress and turn to substance use as a coping mechanism.

Physical Health Issues

Trauma can lead to chronic stress, increasing the risk of developing physical health issues. This includes conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.
Additionally, substance abuse issues that may arise due to the trauma can further contribute to physical health issues and negatively impact overall well-being.

Summary of the Effects of Adolescent Trauma

Trauma experienced in adolescence can have far-reaching effects on an individual’s emotional, psychological, and physical health in adulthood. It’s essential to seek professional help to address any unresolved trauma.
Professional help will also reduce the risk of long-term negative impacts on well-being and reduce the risk of developing substance abuse issues as a coping mechanism.

The Link Between Substance Abuse and Trauma

Substance use disorder (SUD) is a condition that occurs when an individual continues to use drugs or alcohol despite negative consequences. But trauma refers to a distressing or disturbing experience involving physical or emotional harm.
Trauma can lead to substance abuse and ultimately to SUD in several ways, some of which are detailed below.

Substance Use as a Coping Mechanism

Substance abuse can be used as a coping mechanism for those who have experienced trauma. Individuals who have experienced trauma may use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate to cope with the emotional pain, anxiety, and stress associated with the traumatic event.
Substance abuse may temporarily relieve the psychological symptoms of trauma. This leads to a pattern of substance use and eventually to SUD.

Alteration of Brain Function Due to Trauma

Changes in brain function caused by trauma may also increase susceptibility. Trauma can cause changes in the brain’s reward center. This makes it more difficult for people to experience pleasure from natural rewards.
Examples of natural rewards include social interaction, exercise, or healthy food choices. As a result, individuals may turn to substance abuse to seek pleasure. This will lead to the development of SUD.

Social and Environmental Factors Associated with Trauma

Social and environmental factors associated with trauma can also contribute to substance abuse and SUD development. People who have experienced trauma may face social isolation or financial difficulties. They may also face legal problems.
This can lead to increased substance use to cope with these stressors. Moreover, individuals who have experienced trauma may also be more likely to associate with peers who engage in substance abuse. This leads to an increase in exposure to drugs and alcohol and an increased risk of developing SUD.

Long-Lasting Symptoms

The impact of trauma can be long-lasting. When this happens, it can lead to symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
These symptoms can increase an individual’s risk of developing SUD as they may use drugs or alcohol as a way of self-medicating or to alleviate the psychological symptoms associated with trauma.

Why Is Substance Use an Unhealthy Coping Mechanism?

Substance use is an unhealthy coping mechanism for various reasons. Some of these are detailed below.

Leads to the Development of Substance Use Disorder (SUD)

Individuals who use drugs or alcohol to cope with trauma may develop a pattern of substance abuse. This leads to a cycle of addiction that can be difficult to break. SUD can have a profound negative impact on an individual’s health, relationships, and overall quality of life.

Physical Consequences

Prolonged substance abuse can damage the liver, heart, brain, and other organs. This increases the risk of developing a range of health problems.
Additionally, substance abuse can increase the risk of accidents and injuries. This is particularly true when individuals engage in risky behavior while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Psychological Effects

Psychologically, substance abuse can exacerbate the symptoms of trauma. This makes it more difficult for individuals to recover.
Substance abuse can increase the risk of developing mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This can further increase the risk of substance abuse and exacerbate trauma symptoms.

Social Consequences

Substance abuse can have negative social consequences. This includes the loss of relationships, financial instability, and legal problems.


Individuals who engage in substance abuse may struggle to maintain healthy relationships with loved ones. They may also experience difficulties at work or in school.

Treatment Opportunities For Substance Abuse and Trauma

Are you struggling with substance abuse and trauma? If you are, there are many treatment options available. These treatments aim to address both the substance abuse and the underlying trauma.
These substance abuse and trauma treatment options are detailed below.


Therapy is a common treatment option for individuals struggling with substance abuse and trauma. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and trauma-focused therapy can help you identify and address the underlying issues contributing to substance abuse.
CBT can help you develop healthier coping mechanisms. It can also help to reduce the risk of relapse.
Trauma-focused therapy can help you process the trauma and reduce the symptoms associated with trauma.4

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

MAT involves using medication to help individuals manage withdrawal symptoms. It is also used to reduce the risk of relapse.

Medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone can effectively treat substance abuse. They can be used in combination with therapy to improve treatment outcomes.

Support Groups

This includes support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). They can be effective in helping individuals maintain sobriety.

They also help build a support network of individuals who have experienced similar substance abuse and trauma challenges.

Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Dual diagnosis treatment is a treatment approach that addresses both substance abuse and mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD.

This type of treatment can help people receive the support they need to manage both conditions simultaneously. They also help reduce the risk of relapse.

Alternative Therapies

This includes yoga, meditation, and art therapy. They can effectively reduce stress and anxiety associated with trauma and substance abuse. These therapies can also help individuals develop healthier coping mechanisms and improve their overall well-being.

Get Help For Substance Abuse and Trauma at Rise Above Treatment

If you struggle with substance abuse and trauma, you’re not alone. Rise Above Treatment is here to help. Our team at Rise Above has been helping people start and maintain their recovery for decades, and we can help you, too.

What We Offer

At Rise Above Treatment, we offer a variety of treatment options to treat a variety of conditions. These include:
  • Evidenced-based treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and medication-assisted therapy
  • Teams of licensed and experienced mental health specialists
  • A safe space that’s conducive to healing and recovery
  • Individualized treatment plans
  • Treatment for several different mental illness conditions and substance use disorders
We understand that every person’s recovery journey is different. Our team ensures that your recovery treatment will be tailored to your specific needs.

Contact Rise Above Treatment Today

Don’t let substance abuse and trauma take over your life. Reach out to Rise Above Treatment for more information.

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Are you ready to Rise Above your mental health and addiction challenges?

Reach out to us today. Let us provide the support and guidance needed for sustainable recovery and wellness, allowing you to lead the happy, healthy, and fulfilling life you deserve.