There is a high correlation between severe trauma and addiction. Often trauma leads to behaviors that increase the risk of developing a substance use disorder (SUD). Research indicates that using addictive substances makes it more likely you will experience distressing events or become retraumatized. According to the National Center for PTSD, “having PTSD increases the risk that you will develop a drinking problem. Also, drinking problems put people at risk for traumatic events that could lead to PTSD.” The close relationship between the two makes working through any trauma-related issues in therapy vital to protect yourself against continuing the cycle.

Stress Factors


Some past stressful events that might lead to substance abuse or other self-sabotaging behaviors include the following:

  • Childhood physical or sexual abuse
  • Domestic abuse
  • Natural disasters
  • Severe accidents or pain
  • Living through or fighting a war
  • Community violence

What is Trauma Therapy? 

Experiencing trauma can lead to several common mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, or depression. You need to get treated for any underlying trauma in addition to the substance use disorder (SUD). Several therapies can help you process events and learn coping skills for things like intrusive memories, flashbacks, and dissociation. By learning how to limit or eradicate some of the symptoms related to trauma, you can improve your quality of life and decrease the risk of relapsing. 

There are multiple therapies designed to treat trauma, but trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) is one of the most useful. Survivors of disturbing events use TF-CBT to learn healthy coping mechanisms, address distorted ways of thinking, reframe upsetting beliefs, and develop interpersonal skills. These therapies aim to accomplish the following four objectives: 

  • Process the traumatic memories and any emotions related to them to achieve clarity and understanding. 
  • Teach you how to cope with and eventually control your emotional responses. 
  • Allow you to reach a healthier mental and emotional state to adapt to future situations and environments more easily. Encourage you to develop and achieve your recovery goals.

How Trauma and Addiction are Linked

The effects of trauma can be devastating, and often the people who have to live with them are least likely to have access to resources and support. To deal with the constant emotional, physical, or mental pain, survivors of trauma often turn to alcohol or drugs. A few common symptoms of PTSD are insomnia, anxiety, and dissociation. To avoid being triggered and experiencing those symptoms, a large percentage of survivors will drink or use other substances to relax and mute them—also referred to as “self-medicating.” Not only is this an unsustainable coping mechanism, but self-medicating with alcohol and other drugs is also dangerous and might worsen the underlying issues. 

Studies on the subject have revealed that people diagnosed with SUD are more likely to report having been subjected to distressing events and are also more likely to develop a severe response to future traumas. According to research from the Emory University School of Medicine in Georgia, a statistically high rate of substance abuse was found among adults who had experienced multiple childhood traumas. 

Signs You May Benefit From Trauma Therapy 

Not everyone who has anxiety over past abuse requires trauma therapy. Some people have life skills and ways of coping that keep them healthy and functional in their daily lives. A few signs that you might benefit from trauma therapy include the following:

  • Frequent disorientation, confusion, or trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty performing daily tasks at home, work, or school
  • Nightmares, night terrors, or persistent insomnia
  • Flashbacks, or dissociative episodes
  • Overwhelming feelings of guilt, shame, fear, or other negative emotions
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability and unusual mood swings
  • Hypervigilance 

It can be hard to spot some of these symptoms in yourself. Asking a close friend or loved one to verify if you are exhibiting some or all of those traits can help. 

What to Expect 

Your therapist will use talk therapy and other techniques to help you better understand your reactions and process the trauma. They may ask you to do homework between sessions, and you will learn valuable exercises to help you cope during stressful situations. 

Sometimes prescription medications are necessary depending on the severity of your symptoms. If you do not feel comfortable taking prescribed drugs, you can use some natural remedies and relaxation techniques to combat symptoms like insomnia and anxiety. Your doctor and therapist can advise you on the available treatment options. 

Does Therapy Cure Trauma?

Treating the symptoms of trauma can significantly improve your life and make your recovery more manageable, but therapy does not “cure” you in the way that some people hope. You can limit the effect and severity of triggered responses, but the memories associated with them will still be there, even though they could fade in time. 

What you can achieve through therapy is inner peace, hope, and a sense of well-being. By learning how to process and cope with various aspects of your trauma, you can achieve recovery goals and build self-confidence. Frequently a holistic approach to treatment is considered the best way to overcome trauma. By looking after your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health, you can create a brighter future. 

We are here for you

Trauma is complex and often affects multiple aspects of a survivor's life. You can take definitive steps to lessen the impact of stressful situations by using resources like trauma therapy. The staff at White House Recovery and Detox are here to help you continue improving your quality of life. We will use specialized treatment to teach you coping skills to overcome triggers and unprocessed emotions related to your trauma. Our evidence-based therapies can give you the tools you need to lower the risk of developing a co-occurring disorder of substance use and trauma. You can use these techniques to build confidence in your ability to stay calm and in control.