Trauma and Addiction

Trauma and Addiction

According to the scientific journal “Clinical Psychology”, individuals who have experienced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are between two and four times more likely to also develop Substance Use Disorder in their lifetimes. While all traumatic experiences are clearly not the same, the resulting shattering of the psychological and emotional world that accompany PTSD are present in all cases of trauma. Without adding confusion about the different DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) differentiations of trauma, let’s look generally at why there is such a strong link between trauma and addiction.

When we experience a traumatic event such as being exposed to or involved in war, physical or emotional abuse, the death of a parent, or a severe car accident, the framework that we have established both psychologically and emotionally is shattered. In other words, the structure that we have developed in order to orient ourselves effectively in the world, upon experiencing trauma, is exposed to an experience in which it never conceived of nor planned for. Because our brains are partially wired to detect patterns, and our emotional systems operate on the assumption that these identified patterns are correct, when we experience something so horrific that we literally cannot compute the incoming data, our internal world is thrust into a state of chaos and confusion. Due to our inability to understand the trauma and to formulate new mental maps which we need to guide and direct our thoughts and behaviors, what results is a feeling of a complete loss of control because we were “not prepared” for what we experienced during the traumatic event. When trauma is coupled with a biological predisposition for addiction, we then have a perfect storm to initiate the deterioration into addiction.

Although tragic and in need of resolution, we can begin to understand why an individual might see drugs and alcohol as the only source of comfort and stability in a sea of chaotic madness. Although addiction is clearly not the best solution, and eventually ends in further self-destruction, it is seen as a solution in the mind of the sufferer who cannot bear to continue on living in disarray and discord. Trauma is not a justification for addiction, but if we can learn to better understand why these two disorders often occur comorbidly, we can look to find more effective ways in which to treat sufferers of addiction and trauma.


Tree House Recovery of Orange County, California is a premier men’s addiction treatment facility that uses eight different modalities to help our men become the best versions of themselves they can be. We teach our men that every day of their journey is something to celebrate, and that recovery isn’t a sprint– it’s a marathon. To get started with Tree House Recovery, call us today at (855) 202-2138.

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