The Sober Living AZ Blog

How Unresolved Trauma Can Cause Addiction

Posted on 08/12/19: Mindfulness

Trauma is often described as damage to the mind that occurs as a result of a painful event. It generally stems from “…an overwhelming amount of stress that exceeds one’s ability to cope, or integrate the emotions involved with that experience.” Unresolved trauma, whether a person wants to acknowledge it or not, can result in unhealthy coping mechanisms that lead to addictive behavior. Traumatic events can vary, and examples include, but are not limited to, car accidents, physical abuse, mental abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, witnessing disturbing events, and/or growing up in an unstable environment.

There is a tendency for those who have lived through damaging experiences to suppress their emotions related to that event through the numbing effects of drugs and alcohol. If the trauma occurred during childhood, it’s likely that the person did not receive the treatment or counseling they needed in order to make sense of the situation at the time.

Unresolved Trauma Side Effects

Addiction and trauma have the tendency to fuel one another: trauma increases the risk of substance abuse, and substance abuse causes individuals to engage in high-risk behaviors that often trigger trauma-related emotions. Additionally, those who have developed an addiction as a result of a damaging event are much less likely to acknowledge the trauma itself. Rather, they continue to mask any deep-rooted feelings with substances that make them forget about their emotions altogether. Drugs can be used to calm anxiety and stress related to the trauma or induce a self-righteous perception that makes the addict believe they have a greater grasp on their life than they actually do.

Depending on the event, trauma can cause a variety of negative feelings: fear, shame, embarrassment, anger, resentment. Unresolved trauma often results in a condition referred to as PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. According to the Clinical Psychology Journal, those who suffer from PTSD “…are between two and four times more likely to also battle addiction than their peers who do not struggle with PTSD”. This further proves the connection between traumatic events and drug addiction.

When someone with unresolved trauma continues suppressing their emotions, tough days can subconsciously weaken the defense mechanisms that keep their negative feelings at bay. Maybe your boss came down on you at work, maybe you’re having an argument with your significant other, maybe you just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Whatever the case may be, the emotions related to that event will always have a way of rising to the surface until they are addressed and resolved, once and for all.

Addiction also has a way of masking trauma, and problems can be mistakenly attributed to drug abuse rather than the distressing event that is causing the addiction in the first place. Let’s say a person suffering from addiction due to unresolved trauma becomes sober, without addressing the damaging experience. Eventually, once drugs are no longer in the picture, they will be substituted with other forms of addiction: gambling, sexual promiscuity, excessive spending, overeating, among other compulsive behaviors. Regardless of what constitutes a traumatic event, it must always be addressed in order for an addict to successfully recover from their condition.

Medical Research on Trauma

Plenty of research has been done in regard to the connection between trauma and drug abuse, in the hopes of understanding the connection. No concrete answers have been found, but ties have certainly been made between the two conditions. According to an article by the Carrier Clinic, “data from over 17,000 patients in Kaiser Permanente’s Adverse Childhood Experiences study indicate that a child who experiences four or more traumatic events is five times more likely to become an alcoholic, 60% more likely to become obese, and up to 46 times more likely to become an injection-drug user than the general population”.

This makes sense, it is much easier to ignore feelings of anxiety and depression when the effects of drugs and/or alcohol are numbing your senses and clouding your thought process. Trauma is able to be ignored until the substance’s effects have worn off, and the individual is left feeling worse than they did before. This cycle has been proven to continue until said individual seeks assistance in the forms of therapy, counseling, and supplemental forms of addiction recovery treatment, all of which we offer here at Sober Living AZ.

Trauma therapy can be conducted in a couple of different ways. Ultimately, the purpose of each technique is to create a safe space for addicts to channel their inner thoughts and vocalize any insecurities and/or triggering emotions. Therapists aim to create a secure environment to keep addicts from feeling threatened while in such a vulnerable state. Due to their mental condition, it becomes difficult for them to feel safe and relaxed enough to open up about their past.  Trauma therapy taps into this by promoting self-care and self-awareness, allowing patients to regain confidence and self-esteem as they embark on their recovery journey. This approach helps addicts focus on the positive rather than the negative when it comes to their emotions. 

Dual Diagnosis Treatment is often the solution to cases of addiction that result from trauma. This type of treatment program is administered when a mental health disorder (such as PTSD) occurs alongside another condition (in this case, drug addiction). Instead of drawing a hard line between psychiatric health and substance abuse, these areas are treated as part of a continuum and equally considered throughout the recovery process.

If your unresolved trauma has resulted in addiction, there is little chance you will be able to recover successfully without guidance from a medical professional. Working through these emotions is tough to do as it is, and becomes an even harder task when substance abuse is thrown into the mix. Finding a treatment plan that is tailored to you, and utilized daily, is crucial when it comes to recovering from a dual-diagnosis condition. 

Trauma therapy is a process of self-exploration, during which an addict takes the time to learn about themselves and acknowledge the experiences that are pushing them into negative practices. The factors that are identified during this treatment also help in developing a relapse prevention plan later on in the process, ensuring patients will be able to fight off future triggers in an efficient manner. SLAZ offers an abundance of resources when it comes to detox programs and psychotherapy, as well as 24-hour assistance should you want to reach out at any time of the day or night. Contact us today and let’s get to the bottom of your issue: we pride ourselves in working alongside you as you journey on toward a brighter, sober future.


If you or someone you know needs help with addiction, contact Sober Living of AZ now to get the help you need. Sober Living offers an acclaimed recovery environment that merges upscale and luxury accommodations with affordability, clinical expertise and an unwavering commitment to patient care and aftercare. Call us now at 602-737-2458.

Content for Scottsdale Recovery Center and Arizona Addiction Recovery Centers created by Cohn Media, LLC. Passionate and creative writing and broadcasting, covering the following industries: addiction rehab, health care, entertainment, technology and advocate of clear communication, positivity and humanity at its best. www.cohn.media

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