Addiction & Trauma: Trauma-Related Symptoms

Addiction & Trauma Part 2: Trauma-Related Symptoms

Estimated watch time: 5 mins 30 secs


This video highlights trauma-related symptoms and how to be aware of them. Trauma can affect us mentally, emotionally and physically. We often don’t realize that symptoms we’re experiencing are directly related to trauma in our lives. To move forward in addiction treatment, it is helpful to identify and confront trauma. The provided self-reflection can help you identify and manage your symptoms for better health outcomes.

Video Materials:


Addiction and Trauma Part 2

In this lesson we will discuss trauma-related symptoms.

So what are trauma-related symptoms? 

These symptoms can range from psychological to emotional symptoms as well as physical and behavioral symptoms.

Some psychological symptoms can include nightmares, flashbacks or other intrusive memories, troubles concentrating or problems with your memory.

Emotional symptoms can include hopelessness, anxiety or panic attacks, depression, shame, a heightened startle response, getting emotionally overwhelmed or even feeling emotionally numb and even disassociation. That’s when you block yourself off from feeling anything.

Physical symptoms can include headaches, stomach aches, insomnia.

Behavioral symptoms can include rage, self-destructive behaviors like cutting, eating disorders, substance abuse, and suicide attempts.

In the exercise after this lesson, you will find self-reflection number three, which contains a list of trauma-related symptoms.  We’ll ask you to choose some of those symptoms that you have been experiencing.  There are plenty of things that aren’t listed on there. So feel free to add things that you’ve experienced or you feel are your own symptoms


It could be understandable to think, you know, why am I doing this? I don’t even want to deal with this stuff. I don’t want to think about these symptoms. But there are consequences to not managing your symptoms. And the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, as we referred to earlier, warns that if trauma is not addressed in treatment, these individuals are likely to have poor recovery outcomes and are highly likely to have poor physical health outcomes as well. There are many studies that show the negative effects of trauma on our health. There’s direct correlation between trauma and physical health conditions. There is also a correlation between substance abuse and health conditions.

On their own, addiction or trauma significantly increase the rates of diabetes, COPD, heart disease, cancer, and high blood pressure.

When you have addiction and trauma history, the chances are even higher that you might suffer from one of these health issues.

In Self-Reflection #4 after this lesson, we’re going to list six ways that managing your symptoms will be critical for your sobriety from addictive and other self-destructive behaviors. So here we’re going to imagine what would life be like if you weren’t sidelined by these fears or symptoms? What kind of things would you be able to do that trauma has kept you from doing? This might be trying to stay healthy, maybe going to the gym. Maybe you haven’t been able to go to the doctor because of trauma. There could be hobbies that you’ve given up. Or people that you’ve given up because of the trauma symptoms.  Also here, imagine the things that you won’t have to worry about because your symptoms are under control. Add these things to your list as well.

A lot of people avoid a lot of things because they have trauma symptoms, some people might avoid parties or gatherings because of their anxiety. Some people might avoid doing important things like going to church because of shame. Other people might avoid driving anywhere because they’re afraid of a panic attack. These are the kind of things we’re going to put here.

Symptoms have three basic components that interact with one another. 

  • First, there’s the physical sensations. This could be anything from your heart pounding, sweating, dizziness. Maybe you get shaky. Maybe you start to get tunnel vision and feel like you’re gonna blackout.
  • The second part is your thoughts, such as expecting something terrible to happen. These are also those negative tapes that you play in your head and the negative things that you tell yourself.
  • Then there’s the behavioral responses. These can be things like running away or avoiding places or using substances.

When we feel like we are in danger. The emotional and physical parts of our brain override the thinking parts. This is because these parts of the brain are all about survival and they work a lot faster than the thinking part. The result is often we’ll do anything that quickly relieves our discomfort or our symptoms. The problem is that the quick fix isn’t always the intelligent choice because, well, we’re not thinking so great right now. And if the quick fix works, it can easily become a habit.

In an emergency our thoughts often exaggerate the danger and overlook our coping abilities and resources. It is all about survival. Our thoughts want us to act and act fast. However, in people who have experienced trauma, the brain thinks it is always in danger and is always exaggerating that danger.

What thoughts pop into your head when you’re experiencing your symptoms? Imagine that the symptoms have a mind of their own. What would it be telling you, to make you take action?

Coming back to self reflection number four after this lesson.  After you’ve chosen your symptoms, you’ll write those physical sensations that you notice when you’re experiencing the symptom. And then you’re going to write down the thoughts that go along with those physical sensations.

And this is skill number one: Awareness.  Just by having this much awareness about your symptoms is a coping skill within itself. Recognizing what is happening makes it a lot less frightening. So after you’ve written this stuff down, when the sensations come up, when those thoughts come up, you can recognize “Oh, that’s anxiety.”  That’s going to help you a ton. And it’s a skill within itself.

In the next lesson we’ll discuss coping skills

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The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.