What Is Trauma?

Trauma is an emotional response to stressful or disturbing events that shatter a sense of security. Situations that create trauma include threats to safety or life, but may also be situations that involve feelings of isolation or high levels of anxiety. Individuals may feel cognitively, emotionally or physically overwhelmed.

What Causes Trauma

The definition of trauma is broad and encompasses both one-time incidents (accidents, death, loss) or chronic circumstances (child abuse, neglect, combat). Trauma is also subjective, as everyone processes events differently.

In other words, what matters most is the individual’s internal beliefs and their innate sensitivity to stress. Trauma is especially common in the lives of people struggling with substance abuse and mental health disorders.

Trauma and Addiction

Research indicates an increased likelihood for certain chronic physical conditions and behavioral health conditions among people who experience trauma, particularly during childhood. Traumatic experience has been linked to substance use, mental health disorders and increased instances of risky behaviors.

In the Journal of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental, a study was done that directly linked childhood trauma and alcoholism. The study “reports that “a child with four or more adverse childhood experiences is five times more likely to become alcoholic and 60 percent more likely to become obese, and a boy with 4 or more of these adverse experiences is 46 times more likely to become an injection user than others.”

It is important to understand that experiencing trauma does not guarantee a person will develop an addiction. However, research indicates that trauma is certainly an underlying factor as a source of addiction.

Trauma is also correlated with chronic pain, which may be another trigger for substance abuse disorders. Again, research shows how chronic pain may originally stem from trauma and fuel addiction.

Some statistics from US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health:

  • With or without back surgery, nearly 76% of patients with chronic lower back pain report having had at least one trauma in their past.
  • Upwards of 90% of women with fibromyalgia syndrome report trauma in either their childhood or adulthood.
  • 60% of those with arthritis report a traumatic history.
  • 66% of women with chronic headache report a past history of physical or sexual abuse.
  • Among men and women, 58% of those with migraines report histories of childhood physical or sexual abuse or neglect.
  • Women with chronic pelvic pain also report high rates of sexual abuse in their past, upwards of 56%.

Trauma and Interventions

The correlation between trauma and addiction is so strong, all therapeutic interventions should be facilitated from a trauma-informed approach. That’s why I use a Biopsychosocial approach, which examines addiction as the product of biological, psychological, social and cultural influences. By looking at a robust picture of a client, what they are doing and where they came from, an interventionist can create determine which problem to tackle first.

In the past, interventions and addiction treatment focused solely on getting the individual to sobriety. However, trauma brings intense feelings of discomfort and people often turn to substances to try and numb them. In trying to avoid that pain, they may create new problems with addiction.

In removing the substance abuse, the root issue of the trauma has still not been addressed.

An experienced interventionist will recommend a treatment plan that recognizes trauma and substance abuse often go hand in hand.

It’s important to meet the needs of the individual in a safe and informed way, providing them hope for healing and recovery.  

Articles About Trauma

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