One of the most prominent triggers for drug abuse and addiction is unresolved trauma. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), as the number of traumatic events experienced during childhood increases, the risk for addiction, alcoholism, depression and suicide attempts also increase.
Recognizetrauma.org explains that people who have experienced trauma are:
- 15 times more likely to attempt suicide
- 4 times more likely to develop alcoholism
- 4 times more likely to inject drugs
- 3 times more likely to experience depression
A recent study published by the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) revealed that roughly one out of every four people experience a traumatic event before the age of four. With so many children growing up with the scars and emotional wounds of unresolved childhood trauma, there’s an increased chance that they will turn to alcohol, prescription painkillers and other drugs.
Some of the biggest factors that hold people back from getting the help they need to work through trauma that leads to addiction are stigma and myths. Below are some of the most common myths about trauma and addiction.
Time heals all wounds.
Just because time passes doesn’t mean emotional wounds have been resolved and healed.
This common cliche does hold some truth – mainly for physical wounds. After all, the human body is resilient: Most cuts, scrapes, bruises and even broken bones can be mended with some care and patience. On the other hand, emotional wounds don’t ever form a scab and regrow new skin over an open wound. Emotional wounds run much deeper – and though they are not visible, they can lodge themselves within us for years, decades and even lifetimes.
Going through rehab to enter recovery is never easy – and when trauma is added to the recovery process, it can be even more challenging. Those suffering from addiction to alcohol or drugs must address their past trauma in order to work through the underlying core issues that have played a roles in their addiction. Time alone does not heal emotional wounds. It takes processing, guidance, counseling, love and expression to work through past trauma.
Physical and sexual abuse are the only types of trauma that lead to addiction.
Trauma isn’t defined by the event – but instead, the individual’s internal response to it.
Unlike physical wounds, emotional wounds are subjective: Emotional scars are based entirely on the internal response of the person who experienced the trauma. Psychological trauma is defined as something that was painful and traumatic to you and the experience and meaning you understood from it.
Trauma doesn’t have to be physical abuse, sexual abuse or even obviously dramatic. While the most obvious events surrounding trauma often include physical and sexual abuse – other events such as injury from a car wreck, witnessing violence, a house fire, experiencing a natural disaster, illness, being yelled at by an authority figure or even parents’ divorce – can all be traumatic for a young child, depending on how he or she perceives it.
Past traumas don’t relate to present addictions.
Healing from addiction involves getting to the underlying issues, including events from the past.
There tends to be a stigma surrounding addressing unresolved trauma: “You are weak for not moving past it.” “You’re using your childhood as an excuse for your behavior now.”
The reality is, past traumas can highly influence your behavior – and your addiction – today. People who speak about trauma as a “convenient excuse” for addiction don’t fully comprehend what trauma, or addiction is – and what the experience is like for those who struggle with them. Understanding the very real connection between trauma and addiction can be a key to long-term recovery.
The overwhelming sensations a person can feel after a traumatic event can last for years, decades or even a lifetime if left untreated. Just because a form of trauma may have occurred 20 years ago doesn’t mean the effects haven’t lingered and the feelings aren’t still present. Those overwhelming emotions are what can drive individuals to drug and alcohol addictions many years after a traumatic event may have occurred.
A traumatic event occurred exactly the way in which you remember it.
Trauma is all about perception. It matters less about the event, and more about its meaning.
Healing from trauma requires facing the reality of your own life. However, sometimes the facts of a traumatic event didn’t actually occur precisely how you remember them.
Just because you remember an event differently than how it happened, doesn’t make it any less traumatic. Remember, trauma is less about the event and more about how you internalized it. This is why, for example, two siblings in the same exact household, close in age, may have completely different views surrounding their parent’s divorce. One child may be much more traumatized by the event than the other child, despite experiencing the same circumstances. Trauma results from the meaning we take away from the event.
Trauma doesn’t just go away on its own – and neither does addiction. Healing the underlying issues of addiction and addressing past trauma is the only way to truly heal. Don’t let the stigmas and myths trick you into believing your emotional wounds are too big or too small to be worked through.