Addiction & Trauma: Understanding Trauma

Addiction & Trauma Part 1: Understanding Trauma

Estimated watch time: 4 mins 


The video explores the connections between addiction and trauma and begins to lay the groundwork for working through them. Trauma can occur because of one particular event, such as an assault, a car accident or abuse. It can also be an ongoing part of a person’s environment. Trauma can lead to feelings of helplessness, reduced self-esteem, and unhealthy coping mechanisms such as the use of alcohol or drugs.

At the end of this lesson, you may self-reflect on how trauma may have impacted you.

Video Materials:


Addiction and Trauma Part 1

Welcome to this lesson on coping with Addiction and Trauma.

This lesson is meant to help the listener understand the connections between trauma symptoms and addiction, learn coping skills to bring these symptoms and addiction under control, promote healing and acceptance, and to reduce relapse risk by using coping strategies for both addictions and problems related to trauma.

 You may be wondering what is trauma?

And a simple answer is trauma is the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms the individual’s ability to cope. And it also causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes the sense of self, and impedes their ability to feel a full range of emotions and experiences.

Where trauma is thought of as occurring with an event, there is also complex trauma which stems from chronic long-term exposure to an environment that is life or self-threatening, sexually violating, emotionally overwhelming or neglectful. And it alters the development of the self by requiring survival to take precedence over normal psycho biological development in a child.

In addition to recovering from substance abuse, many of us are also trying to cope with symptoms that are the result of trauma. Some of us may have been diagnosed with PTSD or another anxiety disorder, like generalized anxiety, social anxiety, and agoraphobia. Just to name a few. And some may not even recognize this is an issue for them.

Trauma history is a very common occurrence for those struggling with substance abuse disorders. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in the United States 61% of men and 51% of women report exposure to at least one lifetime traumatic event. That’s a lot. When it comes to those in treatment, though, for mental health or substance use disorders, the number soars to 90 percent.

So what are these connections between addiction and trauma related disorders? People who abuse alcohol and other drugs far more likely than others to find themselves in risky situations and suffer trauma. As well as the people with trauma related disorders are at a higher risk to become addicted to alcohol and other drugs if they self medicate to relieve their anxiety, depression, or other symptoms.

After this lesson, you will be asked to complete two self-reflections. 

In some cases, people experience traumatic events as a result of their drinking, drug use or other high risk behaviors. You will describe any ways that you feel your addictive patterns have led you to suffering traumatic experiences. Imagine the dangerous situations that people get themselves into when they are using substances. This could be driving under the influence, causing an accident, getting a DUI. This could be arguments with the family that get out of hand. There’s so many ways that our use has affected our lives.

Sometimes the connection between addiction and trauma works in the other direction. The traumatic experiences or other anxiety problems come first. And when the person uses substances or behaviors to temporarily block the pain, they can get hooked. Have painful experiences led you to drink, use, or otherwise act out addictively? And when you’re thinking about this one, a lot of times we’ll hear about patients who had social anxiety or other anxiety issues, maybe low self-esteem or depression, and when they were first introduced to alcohol or other substances, they found that it made all those bad feelings go away. And so they wanted to keep doing that because all they wanted it was to get rid of those bad feelings.

Did you have things that were happening before your addiction started that made addiction way more easy to slip into?

In the next lesson we will discuss trauma-related symptoms.

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Other Addiction & Mental Health Resources

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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.