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Trauma and Drug Addiction

Table of Contents

Frug addiction and Trauma; Trauma is something that most people experience at some point in their lives. Some traumas are minor while others are seriously debilitating. Healing the emotional scars left by traumatic events is critical to moving on and leading a health and full life. However, some individuals don’t have the proper coping mechanisms before traumatic events occur.
This causes them to turn to self-destructive behavior that often ends in a drug addiction. In fact, 50 to 96 percent of substance abusers have reported experiencing a traumatic event. Understanding the link between trauma and addiction is the key to helping these individuals overcome the hold that drugs have on their life.

The Role of Trauma in Drug Addiction

While everyone faces hard days, not all negative events are classified as traumatic ones. And, while not all events affect individuals in the same way, there are several that are large enough to be classified as traumatic. These include physical, emotional or sexual abuse, family alcoholism, neglect, war, the death of a loved one, natural disasters and accidents.
There are almost as many ways of coping with trauma as there are people on earth. The truth is that there is no right way to grieve a loss or to overcome a horrible experience. Positive coping mechanisms allow individuals to deal with the emotional responses of the event and use them as a path to future happiness. However, some individuals either deny the trauma occurred or numb the emotional pain, which causes them to enter a downward spiral. There is no real way to predict which individuals will cope successfully and which will fail. However, studies show that those experiencing trauma are at a much higher risk of developing a drug dependency.

The Role of PTSD

One common diagnosis that often occurs in those suffering the ill effects of trauma is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Identifying PSTD in a trauma patient is characterized by the presence of the following symptoms for a period of at least one month:

  • Repeated flashbacks, nightmares or fearful thoughts
  • Avoiding places or people that remind them of the trauma
  • Guilt, indifference, depression and loss of memories about the trauma
  • Feeling tense, being easily startled, being prone to emotional outbursts and insomnia

The Role of Pain

Many individuals who have been diagnosed with PTSD also report a high incidence of physical pain. Some of this pain is due to the trauma they endured, such as a car accident or a war injury. However, PTSD sufferers also experience over-sensitivity to stimuli, which can lead to ongoing pain that they otherwise would not feel. This ongoing physical pain is what often leads to an addiction to legal opiate-based drugs prescribed for their pain. This legal addiction often leads to an illegal addiction, such as heroin.

The Role Co-Dependency Plays

Treating trauma patients is often compounded by the fact that many sufferers self-medicate using alcohol or drugs. In fact, addiction diagnoses have a very high co-morbidity rate with PTSD, often with rates as high as 25 percent. Even more problematic is that many individuals who have an addiction and have PTSD also have depression. Studies show that between 20 and 80 percent of PTSD cases also have major depressive disorders. Add in an uncontrollable addiction to drugs and the individual often spirals completely out of control.
It’s important to note that being diagnosed with PTSD or depression does not mean that an individual will develop an addiction. It simply means that statistically they are at a higher risk of developing one. It also means that physicians must be acutely aware of the risk factors these patients face and obtain treatment for all underlying mental and emotional issues as well as the physical ones.

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