What’s Trauma got to do with Addiction?
Updated: Jul 23
What is trauma and what’s it got to do with addiction? Is it the cause of addiction? Is that an excuse for bad behavior, or something the therapists want you to believe, so you can blame everything you’ve done wrong on your parents? Learn how trauma works and what it means for the people struggling with addiction.
Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless in a dangerous world. Experiencing trauma in childhood can result in a severe and long-lasting effect. When childhood trauma is not resolved, a sense of fear and helplessness carries over into adulthood, setting the stage for further trauma.
Our bodies react to trauma with a built-in system designed to protect us from threat or danger. We call it the “fight-flight-freeze” reaction. The body shifts into full alert and readiness for fight or run, blood runs to the muscles, but the rational thinking brain shuts down. The victims can’t think, they rather react instinctively. Their memory is impaired. Later, they may not remember the event, or it may seem to them like something from a distant dream. If this happens often, thinking, feeling and reasoning are severely impaired, to the extent, that we can actually see the difference between the victim’s brains and a healthy person’s brain on brain scans, even when the child has already grown into an adult.
Only lately has it been brought to the public attention, that being a small child in a dysfunctional family may leave the child severely traumatized, too. Traumatic events have the most serious consequences to the children. What makes it worse is that the child is so young, inexperienced and vulnerable, they have no other coping mechanisms, and have nowhere to run to; the perpetrators are more often than not the caregivers the child loves and depends upon, and, chances are, that this is not a one-time event, but a pattern that repeats every day.
Frequently traumatized children will probably come to the conclusion, that there is something terribly wrong with them, that they are worthless and helpless, that they can do nothing right, that they are doing something wrong, or rather that they are a mistake themselves. They will feel shame and expect punishment. To relieve pain, they will try to do what they have seen their family members do: abuse alcohol, drugs and addictive behaviors, to numb the pain and escape the terrible reality.
This is exactly how the addicts usually feel all the time. And this is what they do. Trauma does not directly cause addiction, but victims of trauma often resort to addictions of all sorts, to numb their pain and escape the bad feelings.
Learn more about how trauma translates into addiction in this video.
Sanja Rozman is a medical doctor, psychotherapist and author of 8 books on behavioral addictions.
Read more in her book Serenity: How to Recognize, Understand, and Recover from Behavioral Addictions
that is about to be published by Brandylane Publishers Inc., Belle Isle Books.