Episode 19: Does Trauma Cause Addiction?
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Hello, everyone, welcome back to the Waismann Method podcast with your hosts Clare Waismann and David Livingston. I’m Dwight Hurst and I’m going to be posing the question today, as usual. Today’s question is, does trauma cause addiction? Well, there’s a lot built into this. Where should we start with that connection? Because my initial if I hear someone say, can trauma lead to addiction, first I go in, my brain just goes, yup, but there’s more to it than that, right?
David Livingston, LMFT: There’s a lot more to it. Yeah. I’ve heard so many things about trauma and the relationship between trauma and addiction. And certainly, trauma can lead to all kinds of problems and needs for coping mechanisms or adaptations that aren’t necessarily good. So certainly trauma can cause addiction. There’s trauma that doesn’t necessarily have to cause addiction too. So it’s not a given that that’s going to happen. So you might say that when somebody is traumatized, that their sense of the world and their understanding and their narrative of things, regardless of their age is to some degree thrown and shattered or thrown into some level of chaos in which there is a sense of how they thought things were going to be all of a sudden differ significantly from what’s happened or is happening, and that that is what trauma is at some level.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Oh, I have heard people describe trauma as assumptive violations. That’s a term I’ve heard thrown around by clinicians. Sometimes your assumptions deep, deep in your gut, dilated.
David Livingston, LMFT: Oh, that’s a much shorter way of saying that. That’s that’s right. That’s that’s good. Right. So. So there’s there is. So when that happens, right, so there’s disorganization that happens inside people, and their narrative of the world and their vision of life in themselves in some way has to adapt. And, you know, and then there are effects on the nervous system. The brain can be altered. And there’s, I think, many effects, which is why trauma has sort of many different elements to it that are difficult. So often people to deal with that, you know, early on, later on, you know, and sometimes even if there are traumas, it’s only when people are needing to manage developmental tasks that the trauma actually starts to really come into play because they have to handle more tension, more frustration, more they have to handle more anxiety in order to improve and develop themselves. And the trauma really sort of, you know, comes to play sometimes at that time. Not necessarily. So trauma certainly can be connected with it. People cope with traumas and all kinds of ways. And often it doesn’t lead to addiction, too.
Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: I think I agree with David 100 percent. I think when there’s I think trauma does not have necessarily lead to addiction, when it’s effectively treated, people can learn to cope with it, to manage it, you know, to restore. I think the best way for treating any kind of trauma is therapy. And I think therapy will teach you not just to deal with that episode that has really changed your whole structure, thought structure, but also teach you how to forward, learn how to deal with any other adverse feelings, negative feelings. So, yeah, I think there is no cure for, say, because there is no reversal, but, you know, you can’t erase what happened, but you can learn to feel how it affects your life differently.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Yeah, we always end up coping with trauma one way or the other. And I guess addiction comes up when our coping becomes either we get overwhelmed or our coping fractures into less healthy coping mechanisms. Rather than, like you say, if we’re guided either in therapy or we’re trying to work through, then then we’re less likely to have those more dangerous, more risky kind of coping mechanisms.
Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: Yeah, I think I think if you’re overloaded with negative emotional response, it is just natural that you’re going to look for some way to, you know, have a break from it. So is truly learning how to emotionally respond to those memories differently?
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: And I guess there are some of us that are more likely to lean towards intoxication or escape in that way. And there’s some of us that maybe lean towards other outlets for that, even if we’re being unhealthy. Right. Isn’t that what they say, that there are the sort of biological or genetic predisposition to be resilient to addiction or to be at greater risk? And then you’ve got the life circumstances on top of that that interact with that. It’s it’s sort of there’s a combination of those things that can set us up one way or the other, some of which we control and some of which we absolutely don’t control.
Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: I think the first 10 years of somebody’s life is so crucial to how you will respond to life events. You know, even when is not a negative example. You see people, you know, celebrating a job or, you know, some good event and let’s drink to celebrate or you what I’m saying. Yeah. Or at the same hand, when they have, you know, bad things happening in their lives, they drink not to feel it. So I think the first 10 years of a child’s emotional development, they truly learn from what they see from what they experience. And I think that carries a tremendous weight down the road.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Yeah, yeah. It’s interesting how and then you compound that with traumatic, abusive kinds of experiences. And one of the things, David, that you mentioned is core to trauma is change or threats to the things that we assume that the way that the world works and I know we’ve done we’ve done some talks before in some of our episodes about the complicated nature of emotions, how sometimes even a good change can be jarring, but then certainly a tragic change can be jarring in the real traumatic way. Right.
David Livingston, LMFT: You know, so I feel like there’s an overemphasis on, you know, maybe that’s too strong… So there are two things, you know, when people are dealing with something, they’ll tell you you don’t have to go looking for it. It will be right there. But what you’ll see what I see a lot and you know, I work with people who are dealing with addiction is that they struggle to have it a cohesive narrative of their life moving forward. So one of the things I’ve tried to do is help them really think about, you know, what it is they want for themselves. And I’ll tell you, it’s far and away from the most difficult question and I think evokes a lot of anxiety. First of all, it’s a really hard question for anybody. It’s maybe it’s as far as I can see the most. One of the things that we don’t do well in our culture, we spend years in school and everything, but there’s very little time in figuring out and really understanding like who am I, what am I good at? How do I want to make a living? What do I want to do? What kind of life do I want?
David Livingston, LMFT: And so people don’t really have a narrative. They kind of take their narrative from what they see around them and more than we even know. So it’s one of the things that happens when you grow up, when you get older, as you get to kind of have your experiences and then you get to begin to understand what is it and who am I, what do I really want, what’s right for me. And I think that a lot of working through trauma and working through addiction is having a different you know, addiction is a tenacity. It’s a tenacity of needs that are driving thoughts and feelings. So it’s that tenacity is spread out into a life then like cures like. Right. So you get to move all of that drive into a life that’s meaningful and that’s right for you. So rather than trying to sort of reorder something, it’s far better to move that same. You know, a lot of people who struggle with addiction are very motivated. They’re just not motivated in good ways.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Hmmm, that’s interesting, I’ve noticed that as well, because in order to maintain any kind of drug use, especially if it’s illicit or whatever, you have to be able to fund it. You have to be able to supply you have to be able to evade detection, if not from authorities, then usually from family. And people get pretty clever about that, you know. Yeah, so there is definite motivation there. It’s just it gets hooked into the wrong direction, as you put it. It’s an interesting point. I think about that with the concept of the cohesive narrative, too, because one thing that trauma can affect that narrative, because if our experience includes abuse or it includes severe tragedy, a lot of times that shifts our narrative shifts our perception of our narrative. And if I’m abused a lot during that early childhood that Clare you were talking about, if I face a lot of abuse, I may learn some things from a very young age that aren’t very healthy beliefs to have about myself. And so my narrative is thrown off. But that was my original narrative and that can make it very hard.
Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: I think also it can especially early on in life, it can really disrupt the normal course of, you know, emotional development. And I think in our field of work, we see that quite a bit, you know, 23, 28-year-old kids that really have emotionally, they have not grown as they should have, what make their decisions in life, you know, questionable. They have not developed the grown-up responsibility, feelings and response, you know, to, let’s say, emotional injury, as one should in adulthood.
David Livingston, LMFT: Right. Right. So the most severe type of trauma in terms of the way that it affects the brain and so forth, is neglect, more so than any other type. So that where you know, in order to become independent, develop human beings, it comes through healthy dependency. It comes through good experiences, like you were saying, Clare, early, early on in life primarily. And then it needs to, you know, hopefully, persist throughout our lives. And but it’s critical early, early on. And so when there’s because it’s foundational for the nervous system, for the brain. And so when there are problems early on, there’s rewiring, there are things get changed inside us. And then the desire to find healthy dependency and even know what that looks like can become difficult. And then that may be at the core of it all is you don’t feel worthy of. Right. It’s so then so it gets, you know, I mean, trauma has to do with all the things we’re talking about.
Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: An important thing to remember about trauma is that not to undermine, obviously, you know, people’s terrible misfortunes or life events that create a huge hole… How can I say… It’s so damaging to who they are or where their thoughts of what they’re worth. But I think we all suffer, encounter in our lives some kind of trauma. You know, some kind of traumatic event. It could be something that sudden, some something that is unpredictable, something from a car accident to you know, right now, a lot of people feel that COVID has been traumatized them. They are just scared and anxious. So I think when people think about somebody that has gone through trauma, they don’t have to put that person in that category of, you know, forever a misfit. Then they’re sort of saying that instead of seeing them as powerful as able to fight, is able to survive and grow. They see themselves as lesser than. So I just wanted to put this out there. That trauma doesn’t represent that you have been harmed to a point of no return.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: And this is a similarity with how we always talk about addiction. Right. It’s trauma is a medical problem as far as it is something that has treatment and just like addiction. And I think that’s a great point to say. Am I defined by my trauma? Because there’s the incidents that happened to me and then there’s the trauma, which is really more the psychological effect that it had and the fact that sometimes I think we conflate those and things just because I can never change the incident, I can never change the trauma. And it’s like actually the trauma can change significantly as far as how it’s affecting us. And the incident just then just becomes part of our own story out of our own life.
David Livingston, LMFT: That’s it. It’s a treatment form. And that that addiction is a coping mechanism. That’s all it is for this stuff until there’s a better way of managing it and when it’s related to addiction and it’s got to be seen that way. And instead of people being seen it, as you know, and so we have to look at the cause. And because we don’t even know people or what the causes are, they have to understand what people are coping, they are wounded. And that doesn’t mean they’re not capable and a whole host of ways, but they’ve got a wound that may not be being dealt with the best way, you know, of some sort or, you know, and sometimes it’s not easy, sometimes it’s profound. And sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it’s more situational.
Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Thank you, Clare. Thank you, David. We’re going to call it good on that question for today and move forward. Next episode, we’re going to be looking a little bit more at the relationship that choice plays with addiction or frankly, is addiction a choice? The questions that we ask are questions that we’ve encountered through our years of working with addiction and dependence. And we would love to get your feedback also into what kind of questions you can reach out to us at [email protected] through email, hit us up @opiates on Twitter or check out the website at www.opiates.com for the WAISMANN METHOD® Advanced Treatment for Opiate Dependence, the music for this and all of our episodes as the song Medical by Clean Mind Sounds. And the show itself is produced by Pop Culture Productions, which you can learn more about at poppedcollar.net. Thanks again for being here. Remember, very, very important to always be questioning. If you can find questions, you can find answers, and if you can find answers, you can find hope. Thanks again for joining us. We’ll see you next time here on the Waismann Method podcast.
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