The COVID-19 crisis brought tremendous stress to various areas of our lives. Apart from the threat of the actual disease, the realities of the new ‘normal’ created an onslaught of hurdles and traumatic experiences for people grappling with mental illness and substance use disorder (SUD). In the last year alone, it was reported that 12% of adults experienced increased alcohol consumption or substance use.
Similarly, there is an increased demand for mental health services from psychologists in the United States. These two trends might seem unconnected at first glance; but in this article, we will explore the connection between trauma, addiction, and other mental health issues.
Addiction and Trauma Recovery
Trauma and Behavioral Health
Negative experiences will always be present in life. Certain situations or experiences may tremendously affect us, resulting in heightened emotions like fear, anger, shock, etc. This is trauma–the physical and emotional response we develop to manage or survive horrific life-altering events like assault, death, natural disasters, accidents, and others.
Trauma can affect anyone at any time with no regard to socioeconomic status, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and age. In fact, most people who will experience trauma will go on to push forward with their lives without long-term negative effects. Some, however, may develop into a full-blown PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a condition wherein people may experience (or reexperience) distress even when they are not in any apparent danger.
Although trauma is a very personal experience, it places a burden not just on the individual but also on their families and communities. Trauma is also especially common in people with mental illness and substance use disorders. Thus, there is an increasing need to address trauma as a vital aspect of effective behavioral health care and an essential part of recovery.
Substance Use and Addiction
There are two perspectives in understanding addiction: the disorder model and the disease model. For the first, addiction is often referred to as substance use disorder, and the standard definition of a disorder is a set of symptoms or conditions that hinders the normal functions of the mind or body. Addiction is understood in this perspective as a chronic, relapsing disorder wherein a patient compulsively seeks and uses substances despite the negative effects, and causes long-term changes in the brain.
The disease model of addiction is a relatively ‘newer’ perspective, as it has only been widely accepted in recent decades. The American Society of Addiction Medicine released a public policy statement with this model, defining addiction as ‘a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry that causes pathologically pursuing of reward and/or relief through using substances. This model helped in viewing addiction like any other disease (i.e. heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.) as it recognizes the various biological, environmental, behavioral, and even psychological causes. This view also acknowledges the physical, psychological, social, and even spiritual effects of addiction in the patient’s life, as well as the ways to address and manage it.
What is the Impact of Trauma on Addiction?
Trauma and substance use problems do not directly or exclusively cause each other. However, research has shown the strong link that exists between traumatic experiences and addiction. Here are key points that connect trauma and addiction.
Substance Use in Coping with Trauma
An important pattern to recognize in addressing trauma and addiction is that people dealing with trauma often turn to substance use to self-medicate symptoms of traumatic stress. Some of these symptoms can be physical:
- pains on various parts of the body
Some of the psychosocial symptoms include:
- hyperarousal or being ‘on-edge’
- withdrawing from relationships and responsibilities
These are usually ‘eased’ by drugs and alcohol, helping people temporarily improve their moods and help with their symptoms. However, prolonged exposure to substances decreases their feel-good effects, making patients crave and consume more. This creates a binge and crash cycle that can potentially lead to life-threatening situations.
Substance Use as Risk Factor
Alcohol and drugs temporarily reduce a person’s cognitive abilities. Long-term use is proven to cause cognitive problems such as memory loss, confusion, hallucinations, and paranoia. Loss of control over the ability to think and communicate clearly leads to negative life-altering events (broken relationships, violence, health emergencies), and increases the risk factor for trauma.
Substance Use and Symptoms of Trauma
A person with traumatic stress might already be dealing with a lot of difficult symptoms like dissociation, depression, and anxiety. The use of substances does not help with these at all; it worsens them. Apart from aggravating the symptoms, alcohol and drug use may even trigger new conditions, as it can negatively affect medications for mental health problems (i.e. mood stabilizers, antidepressants, anxiety meds, etc).
Is Drug Addiction a Symptom of Trauma?
Drug addiction and traumatic stress are two complex conditions caused by multiple factors. As mentioned, they do not cause each other but they link closely to each other. However, people struggling with PTSD might be inclined to engage in self-destructive behaviors which include alcohol and illicit drug use. Thus, we can say that it is worth exploring if a person’s drug addiction ties with an underlying trauma. Nevertheless, seeking professional help and preliminary screening are good starting points to know what counseling approach best fits you.
How a Co-Occurring Disorder Treatment helps treat Addiction and Trauma
Substance Use Disorder often co-occurs with other mental health issues; this disorder is a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. Some of the common co-occurring mental illnesses are anxiety, depression, Schizophrenia, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. This is why a co-occurring disorder treatment is an optimal approach for addiction and trauma recovery, as it is an integrated approach that addresses both illnesses at the same time.
Apart from drug addiction counseling, the integrated approach of a co-occurring disorder treatment may also include:
- Behavioral therapy
- Support groups
Treating both problems at the same time can most help you recover.
Addiction and Trauma Recovery in Long Beach
Getting a personalized co-occurring disorder treatment is a cost and time-efficient way in addiction and trauma recovery. If you are looking for a health and wellness center in Long Beach, California, then you are in the right place.
Here at Roots Through Recovery, we honor that everybody is different. Staying away from a cookie-cutter view of creating treatment plans for our patients, we approach your recovery based on your specific situation, needs, and goals.
Why choose Roots? Apart from offering drug addiction counseling, we also offer a wide selection of programs for those struggling with addiction and mental health issues. We embrace the culture of wellness that is at the heart of Long Beach, a city that offers a uniquely diverse community for healing the mind, body, and spirit.
Come visit us at 3939 Atlantic Ave, Suite 102 Long Beach, CA 90807, or call (866) 766-8776 for immediate assistance.