Does Trauma Lead To Substance Abuse?

A frequently asked question is, “What causes addiction?”. While there is no single or definitive answer, there are multiple risk factors that can act alone or together to increase the likelihood that a person will at some point become an addict in their lifetime.

There is a spectrum of issues that can create a vulnerability to addiction, including a family history of addiction, a mental health issue, lack of family support, and a genetic predisposition. Another commonly overlooked risk factor is trauma, often in childhood and also as an adult.

Trauma can include sexual assault or rape, the death of a loved one, and other catastrophic losses. These are examples of situations or events that can lead to addiction.

But is there a way to reduce the likelihood of someone turning to addiction after trauma? And how much do traumatic events actually impact the probability of addiction development?

How Trauma Affects The Brain

While the human brain has the ability to respond and adapt to environmental stimulation, biology and genetics play a critical role in brain development. During childhood, the brain matures and grows, creating and strengthening neural connections. Every experience the child has, whether negative or positive, affects the brain’s future.

Though the brain develops in a way that is mostly beneficial, experiences that are negative impede healthy development. Research has shown that the brain can actually develop abnormalities in structure that can lead to behavioral, social, and cognitive impairments.

Is There A Correlation Between Substance Abuse And Trauma?

Though obviously not always the case, there is a very significant and undeniable connection between substance abuse and trauma.

Research done at the University of Texas that studied teenagers that were mistreated during childhood found that nearly half would go on to develop some kind of substance abuse issue. Beyond childhood trauma, there is a significant correlation between adult trauma and addiction as well; research on PTSD done by The Department of Veteran Affairs estimated that between 25% and 75% of people who survived trauma developed issues related to substance abuse.

Can Addiction Be Prevented After Abuse?

Individuals who seek treatment in dealing with trauma are more likely to recover and remain addiction free. However, individuals who do not seek help with traumatic experiences are much more likely to use alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism, and this can develop into addiction over time. So the best-known way to help prevent the possibility for substance abuse after a trauma is to make sure that the individual seeks help in a professional setting, with a licensed counselor or therapist. If there is a preexisting history of substance abuse, it would be best to get help from a professional that also has experience treating addiction.

Help Is Available In Scottsdale

At the Purpose Healing Center in Scottsdale, Arizona, we offer a variety of addiction treatment programs that help heal the whole person in a holistic way, including those designed to treat co-occurring (comorbid) mental health disorders. If you or a loved one is struggling with trauma and addiction, contact us today.