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Understanding the Relationship Between Trauma and Substance Use Disorder

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While many people may have heard that there is a link between trauma and substance use disorder before, they may not realize just how prevalent it actually is. According to the American Journal of Men’s Health, “Traumatic experiences are common among drug abusers, and studies have demonstrated up to 80%–90% prevalence.” These are some serious statistics, that require serious attention and for the individuals struggling, serious treatment.

Understanding Underlying Trauma

More people have experienced trauma than what others realize. According to the article, The Epidemiology of Traumatic Event Exposure Worldwide: Results From the World Mental Health Survey Consortium, “Over 70% of respondents [to the World Mental Health Survey] reported a traumatic event; 30.5% were exposed to four or more. Five types – witnessing death or serious injury, the unexpected death of a loved one, being mugged, being in a life-threatening automobile accident, and experiencing a life-threatening illness or injury – accounted for over half of all exposures. Exposure varied by country, sociodemographic, and history of prior traumatic events.”

It is important to understand that trauma does come from a variety of places, and it is all relative to the individual and their experiences. Many people feel that trauma must happen in very extreme circumstances (such as experiences in active combat). Still, it can also happen subtly (such as experiencing economic inequality over time). Regardless of the manifestation, all types of trauma have been shown to contribute to substance use disorder.

Defining Substance Use Disorder

Substance use disorder is much more than substance misuse or even substance abuse. Yes, substance use disorder does happen due to substance misuse and abuse, but it also happens due to other mitigating factors. One of these factors is underlying trauma as previously noted.

Substance use disorder also happens due to both psychological and physical changes. According to the academic write-up, Substance Use Disorder, by Doctors Jahan and Burgess, “Substance use disorders involve both psychological and physical dependence on the substance(s) of use. Severe dependence is characterized by an inability to regulate use. Substance use disorders and addiction stem in part from adaptive changes in the brain as it seeks to regain homeostasis.”

Also, it is important to note that substance use disorder is a diagnosis that denotes a chronic condition. It is no longer something that can be regulated by the individual, rather it is a chronic condition that will now only negatively progress unless some type of intervention takes place.

Understanding the Relationship Between Trauma and Substance Use Disorder

Many people try to self-medicate with alcohol and/or other substances as a way to deal with their trauma. This may actually “work” for some time because these substances can help to “numb” the pain brought on by the trauma.

However, eventually, this type of solution fails due to the fact that the individual’s misuse and abuse of certain substances eventually build up a tolerance, and that tolerance is what can lead to substance use disorder. As they say in 12-Step recovery, eventually what happens is that “one drink or a drug becomes too many, and a thousand stops being enough.” When this happens, it is important to seek help for both issues as soon as possible.

Healing From Both Issues at the Same Time

Many people are only diagnosed for one of their issues when they are struggling with both trauma and substance use disorder. Generally, it is the latter because the substance use disorder overshadows the trauma.

Often, during treatment, the issues of trauma emerge, because to fully heal from substance use disorder one has to delve into deeper emotional issues. When this happens, both issues can then begin to be treated in tandem in order to recover.

Trauma and substance use disorder are often treated in a multifaceted way (for optimal results). One of the best ways to treat the trauma portion is via psychotherapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). These therapies can help get to the root/core emotional issues related to trauma and begin to get the individual to reframe how they relate to them and how they think about themselves in relation to them. Then new coping tools can be established rather than the previous coping tool of substance use.

Helping Heal Co-occurring Disorders at Lantana Recovery

Here at Lantana Recovery, we understand that everyone has a different story to tell, and everyone has different issues that they need to heal from. That is why we treat everyone on an individual basis, which also helps us to focus on co-occurring disorders including trauma and substance use disorder.

The iconic psychologist, Sigmund Freud once said, “We are never so defenseless against suffering as when we love.” That love is one of the cornerstones that can be found here at Lantana Recovery.

There is a significant correlation between trauma and substance use disorder. Many people are unaware that people with substance use disorder often have underlying issues that must be resolved to heal at the cellular level. This is why many people consider alcohol and other substances as “symptoms” of deeper issues. This is especially true for individuals that have underlying emotional issues related to trauma. If you feel like you or a loved one are struggling with issues of addiction, trauma, or both, we can help you recover and achieve long-term sobriety. For more information about the link between trauma and addiction, please reach out to Lantana Recovery today at (866) 997-2870.

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Charleston South Carolina

Charleston South Carolina

Located on the historic peninsula of Charleston, South Carolina, Lantana Recovery takes a modern approach to Substance Use Disorder treatment, offering intensive clinical care while also immersing our clients in local Charleston culture.