Trauma and Addiction: What’s the Relationship?

trauma and addiction

Trauma is a common occurrence in our modern world, affecting millions of people across the globe. If you’re reading this, you may be one of them. Traumatic experiences can be caused by a wide range of events, such as natural disasters, accidents, violence, and abuse, but no matter the cause, they can all have long-lasting effects on mental and physical health.

While some individuals are able to recover from trauma with the support of family, friends, and mental health professionals, for far too many, others may struggle with more negative effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a host of other additional challenges.

Among these, one of the most prevailing is substance abuse or addiction. Research has shown that individuals with PTSD or trauma are more likely to develop substance use disorders than those without, and the co-occurrence of these conditions can make treatment more complex.

But why? What is it about the relationship between addiction and trauma makes them so intertwined? in this article we’ll look at the reasons for this connection, and some of the best tactics to move beyond it.

How Trauma Leads to Bad Habits

The impact of trauma on brain chemistry is one of the predominant forces that can shape a person’s life and, subsequently, their behaviors. These changes alter the way an individuals perceives and responds to the world around them.

When a person experiences trauma, the brain’s stress response system is activated, leading to the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. In some cases, this response can become dysregulated, leading to ongoing hyperarousal and vigilance, even in situations that are not actually dangerous.

While many will understand the concept of hypervigilance very well from personal experience, here’s a very simple example.

A person who has experienced a car accident that left a traumatic impact on their subconscious may become easily triggered by the sound of car horns. Thus, a relatively mundane occurrence becomes something that activates a stress response. We are ‘vigilant’ when it’s not really necessary in a practical sense.

This constant stress response is simply something an average person cannot (or should not) be wired to deal with on a day-to-day basis. In turn, this pressure necessitates a release, and escape.

This is how substances can enter the picture.

Trauma and Emotional Dysregulation

Emotional dysregulation refers to difficulties in managing and regulating emotions, leading to intense, overwhelming, and sometimes unpredictable emotional reactions. As mentioned above, this intensity can simply be unsustainable for most. The relief or distraction one can feel from their constant processing of trauma can become an extremely strong draw for continued use of a substance.

For people with PTSD and trauma, emotional dysregulation is a very common symptom, as they work daily to cope with difficult and distressing memories and feelings. Coping strategies, or the ways in which individuals manage and respond to stress, can be helpful or harmful, depending on the coping mechanism used.

Some examples of coping strategies that can be harmful and contribute to the development of bad habits include:

  • Substance abuse: Using drugs or alcohol to numb emotional pain or escape from distressing memories.
  • Self-harm: Engaging in self-destructive behaviors such as cutting or burning oneself.
  • Avoidance: Avoiding people, places, or situations that trigger traumatic memories, which can lead to social isolation and further emotional challenges.
  • Aggression: Using anger and aggression to cope with intense emotions, which can damage relationships and lead to further emotional dysregulation.

Trauma Coping Strategies

Ok, so how do we cope? What can an individual who is struggling do to wither prevent bad behaviors or mitigate the development of addiction to some existing trends?

Healthy strategies exist, and they are not beyond the reach of anyone.

Some of these trauma coping strategies can help individuals with PTSD and trauma manage their emotions and reduce the risk of developing bad habits. Examples of healthy coping strategies include:

  • Mindfulness: Practicing mindfulness techniques such as meditation or deep breathing to stay present and grounded in the moment
  • Physical activity: Engaging in regular exercise or physical activity to release tension and promote emotional regulation
  • Seeking support: Reaching out to trusted friends, family members, or mental health professionals for support and guidance
  • Expressing emotions: Engaging in healthy forms of emotional expression, such as journaling or creative activities, to process and express difficult emotions in a safe and healthy way.

Overall, understanding emotional dysregulation and the role of coping strategies is essential in addressing the link between trauma, PTSD, and bad habits such as addiction and substance abuse.

By developing healthy coping strategies and seeking support, individuals can better manage their emotions and avoid the harmful impact of bad habits.

Support systems to cope with trauma and addiction

Developing a strong support system can provide individuals with the resources and encouragement they need to manage their symptoms and avoid relapse. Here are some examples of support systems and relapse prevention strategies:

  1. Therapy and Counseling: Therapy and counseling can help individuals with PTSD and addiction to understand the root causes of their symptoms and develop coping strategies to manage their emotions and behaviors. Various types of therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, trauma-focused therapy, and group therapy, can be helpful.
  2. Peer Support Groups: Peer support groups can provide a sense of community and understanding for individuals with PTSD and addiction. Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) provide a space for individuals to connect with others who have experienced similar challenges.
  3. Lifestyle Changes: Developing healthy habits such as regular exercise, healthy eating, and getting enough sleep can help reduce symptoms of PTSD and addiction. These lifestyle changes can improve physical and mental health and reduce the risk of relapse.
  4. Self-Care: Engaging in self-care activities such as meditation, mindfulness, or creative activities can provide a sense of relaxation and help reduce stress and anxiety.
  5. Relapse Prevention Planning: Developing a relapse prevention plan can help individuals identify triggers and warning signs for relapse and develop strategies to avoid relapse. A relapse prevention plan can include strategies for managing triggers, engaging in healthy activities, and reaching out for support.
  6. Neuro-stimulus treatment: Naturally, if a treatment can get right to the root of the trauma, and make it visible and manageable by the individual, this is absolutely ideal, and can help heal what might take years, in simply weeks or months.

Overall, building a strong support system and developing relapse prevention strategies can be instrumental in addressing the link between trauma, PTSD, and bad habits. By taking a proactive approach to managing symptoms and seeking support, individuals can work towards recovery and healing.

Forgiveness and Trauma

No matter what the treatment, or the regular steps one takes to move forward, there is one ultimate step that cannot be overlooked: forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a crucial piece of the puzzle towards healing and recovery for individuals who have experienced trauma.

More specifically, this involves forgiving oneself and others who may have caused the traumatic experience. But why? Well, put simply, forgiving oneself means acknowledging that the trauma is not their fault and releasing self-blame and self-punishment.

One important note: we have to recognize that that forgiveness is not condoning or excusing the behavior of those who caused the trauma but rather a way of releasing the emotional burden of anger and resentment, allowing for emotional closure. Once complete, individuals can experience a sense of peace and freedom, and move beyond the trauma.

Forgiveness can bring many benefits to mental and emotional well-being, improving relationships and quality of life. Through therapy, self-reflection, and self-care, individuals can learn to forgive themselves and others and move towards a more hopeful and fulfilling future.

It’s not easy, but it is an essential part of the healing journey and can help individuals reclaim their lives and move beyond the trauma.


In conclusion, the link between trauma, PTSD, and bad habits such as addiction and substance abuse can be a complex and challenging issue to address.

Understanding the impact of trauma on brain chemistry and behavior, as well as developing healthy coping strategies and strong support systems, is essential in addressing the underlying issues that contribute to the development of bad habits.

We are committed to providing relevant information for absolutely anyone yearning to move forward into a brighter future. We invite those who need help to contact us at 1-800-818-4511 and start a conversation about how they can take control and make the important next steps to healing.


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