Trauma and Addiction

Trauma and Addiction

Verified by World Mental Healthcare Association

Trauma and addiction are closely intertwined, as trauma can contribute to the development of addiction and addiction can exacerbate the effects of trauma. Understanding and addressing both trauma and addiction is essential for effective treatment and supporting individuals on their path to recovery and healing.

The close connection between trauma and addiction is influencing the lives of individuals in profound ways 1 . Trauma involves deeply distressing events that can cause extensive emotional, psychological, and physical harm, while addiction manifests as compulsive engagement in substances or behaviors despite adverse consequences.

It is worth noting that more than 70% of individuals 2 receiving treatment for substance abuse have experienced traumatic events. When faced with trauma, individuals may turn to substance use or addictive behaviors as a means of seeking temporary relief from distressing symptoms.

However, relying on these coping mechanisms can worsen the impact of trauma, leading to a destructive cycle of increased substance use and dependence, all while the underlying trauma remains unresolved.

Signs related to Trauma and Addiction
Signs related to Trauma and Addiction

Why Trauma Leads to Addiction?

Trauma can drive individuals towards addictive behaviors for a range of reasons 3 , which include:

  1. Temporarily numbing the painful emotions, seeking relaxation, or attempting to forget the distressing past experiences.
  2. Addictive behaviors may serve as a way for individuals to cope with the overwhelming emotions associated with trauma.
  3. Some individuals may resort to substance use to aid sleep or prevent nightmares.
  4. Trauma survivors may rely on substances to alleviate the physical pain.
  5. Some individuals turn to addictive behaviors to escape the reality resulting from their traumatic experiences.
  6. Addictive behaviors may be employed as a strategy to prevent flashbacks related to traumatic experiences.
Trauma and Addiction Cycle
Trauma and Addiction Cycle

Mental Health Affects Trauma and Addiction

Different types of trauma and addiction can have significant impacts on mental health, such as 4 :

  1. Trauma can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder 5 (PTSD), marked by intrusive memories, and flashbacks while co-occurring addiction adds complexity to treatment.
  2. Trauma can contribute to anxiety symptoms 6 , while addiction can intensify them, resulting in increased fear, worry, and irritability.
  3. Trauma survivors face an elevated risk of depression 7 , which can be compounded by addiction as substance use disrupts brain function and worsens depressive symptoms.
  4. Childhood trauma and addiction can develop borderline personality disorder (BPD 8 ), which is characterized by emotional dysregulation and unstable relationships.
  5. Trauma and substance abuse can develop bipolar disorder 9 , intensify mood swings, and increase the frequency or duration of manic or depressive episodes.

Read More About Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Here

Trauma and Addiction Treatment

Childhood trauma and addiction recovery require a comprehensive 10 and integrated approach that addresses:

  1. Dual diagnosis treatment encompasses 11 the comprehensive care needed to address both a substance use disorder and a co-occurring mental health disorder or trauma.
  2. Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) 12 on understanding and changing thoughts and behaviors related to trauma.
  3. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) helps to process traumatic memories 13 through eye movements.
  4. Family supportive therapy involves family participation to address the impact of trauma and addiction on the family, by improving communication and support for recovery 14 .
  5. Detoxification, or detox, is the initial phase of treatment that focuses on safely and effectively removing substances from the body, paving the way for further recovery.
  6. Inpatient treatment for specialized facilities where individuals reside for a period of time that provides comprehensive care and support, particularly for trauma and addiction.

Read More About Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Here

Coping Tips for Trauma and Addiction

Here are some coping tips 15 for individuals dealing with trauma and addiction:

  1. Engage in activities that promote your overall well-being, such as exercise, mindfulness, relaxation techniques, and maintaining a balanced diet.
  2. Surround yourself with understanding and supportive individuals who can provide emotional support and encouragement during challenging times.
  3. Be kind and understanding towards yourself, acknowledging that healing takes time and progress may come in small steps.
  4. Establishing a daily routine can provide a sense of stability and predictability, aiding in managing triggers and maintaining a healthier lifestyle.
  5. Constant exposure to distressing news can exacerbate trauma symptoms and increase anxiety. Set boundaries and allocate specific times to stay informed.
  6. Engage in activities such as walking, hiking, or simply sitting in a peaceful outdoor environment to help reduce stress and promote overall well-being.
  7. Reach out to therapists, counselors, or support groups specializing in different types of trauma and addiction to receive appropriate guidance and support.

Read More About Mindfulness Here


Trauma and addiction can significantly impact mental health and overall well-being. Recognizing the connection between the two and seeking trauma and addiction recovery treatment is essential for overall well-being. To enhance long-term quality of life, it is vital to prioritize self-care, seek support, and participate in tailored therapies that address trauma and addiction.

Read More About Addiction Here

At A Glance

  1. The close connection between trauma and addiction is influencing the lives of individuals in profound ways.
  2. Trauma can drive individuals towards addictive behaviors for temporarily numbing the pain, or as a coping mechanism.
  3. Trauma and addiction can have significant impacts on mental health, such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, Bipolar Disorder, etc.
  4. Trauma and addiction treatment include dual diagnosis, psychotherapies, detoxification, and inpatient treatment.
  5. Engage in self-care practices, seek support from others, and incorporate healthy coping strategies to navigate the challenges of trauma and addiction.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What Is Complex Trauma in Addiction?

Complex trauma refers to being exposed to events that are highly threatening or horrific in nature. These events often occur repeatedly over time, making it challenging or even impossible to escape.

2. Is addiction always rooted in trauma?

No, addiction is not always rooted in trauma. While trauma can be a contributing factor to the development of addiction for some individuals, but it is not the sole cause.

3. Does PTSD lead to addiction?

Frequently, individuals facing PTSD may resort to drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medication, which can potentially lead to substance abuse issues.

4. How childhood trauma leads to addiction?

Childhood trauma survivors frequently engage in memory repression in their unconscious mind, which perpetuates their symptoms of depression and anxiety, often resulting in substance use as a means to escape from their distress.

👇 References:
  1.  Simmons, S., & Suárez, L. (2016). Substance Abuse and Trauma. Child and adolescent psychiatric clinics of North America25(4), 723–734. []
  2.  Khoury, L., Tang, Y. L., Bradley, B., Cubells, J. F., & Ressler, K. J. (2010). Substance use, childhood traumatic experience, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in an urban civilian population. Depression and anxiety27(12), 1077–1086. []
  3.  Danielson, C. K., Amstadter, A. B., Dangelmaier, R. E., Resnick, H. S., Saunders, B. E., & Kilpatrick, D. G. (2009). Trauma-related risk factors for substance abuse among male versus female young adults. Addictive behaviors34(4), 395–399. []
  4.  Treatment (US), C. for S. A. (2014). Understanding the Impact of Trauma. In Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US). Available from: []
  5. Mann, S. K., & Marwaha, R. (2022). Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PubMed; StatPearls Publishing. Available from: []
  6. Laugharne, J., Lillee, A., & Janca, A. (2010). Role of psychological trauma in the cause and treatment of anxiety and depressive disorders. Current opinion in psychiatry23(1), 25–29. []
  7. Dominguez, S. K., Matthijssen, S. J. M. A., & Lee, C. W. (2021). Trauma-focused treatments for depression. A systematic review and meta-analysis. PloS one16(7), e0254778. []
  8. Turki, M., Gargouri, N., Abdellatif, M., Ellouze, S., Abidi, O., Halouani, N., & Aloulou, J. (2022). Borderline Personality Disorder And Childhood Trauma: Witch Relationship?. European Psychiatry65(Suppl 1), S374. []
  9. Aas, M., Henry, C., Andreassen, O. A., Bellivier, F., Melle, I., & Etain, B. (2016). The role of childhood trauma in bipolar disorders. International journal of bipolar disorders4(1), 2. []
  10.  Flanagan, J. C., Korte, K. J., Killeen, T. K., & Back, S. E. (2016). Concurrent Treatment of Substance Use and PTSD. Current psychiatry reports18(8), 70. []
  11. Hryb, K., Kirkhart, R., & Talbert, R. (2007). A call for standardized definition of dual diagnosis. Psychiatry [Edgmont (Pa. : Township)], 4(9), 15–16. []
  12. de Arellano, M. A., Lyman, D. R., Jobe-Shields, L., George, P., Dougherty, R. H., Daniels, A. S., Ghose, S. S., Huang, L., & Delphin-Rittmon, M. E. (2014). Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy for children and adolescents: assessing the evidence. Psychiatric services (Washington, D.C.)65(5), 591–602. []
  13. Wilson, G., Farrell, D., Barron, I., Hutchins, J., Whybrow, D., & Kiernan, M. D. (2018). The Use of Eye-Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy in Treating Post-traumatic Stress Disorder-A Systematic Narrative Review. Frontiers in psychology9, 923. []
  14. Suomi, A., Evans, L., Rodgers, B., Taplin, S., & Cowlishaw, S. (2019). Couple and family therapies for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The Cochrane database of systematic reviews12(12), CD011257. []
  15.  Berenz, E. C., & Coffey, S. F. (2012). Treatment of co-occurring posttraumatic stress disorder and substance use disorders. Current psychiatry reports14(5), 469–477. []