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Traumatic events can change your behavior. Whether it’s through childhood or adulthood experiences, these situations can change how you perceive the world and how you view yourself. About 70% of adolescents with substance abuse disorder or SUD report exposure to some form of trauma1

These statistics prove a significant relationship between trauma and addiction. If you want to help someone with addiction due to trauma, it’s crucial to learn how they relate. However, getting the best trauma and addiction treatment in Los Angeles for you or your loved ones is crucial. 


Trauma refers to a response to alarming and distressing events. This response overwhelms the victim and limits their ability to cope. They may feel helpless and have a diminished sense of self. In addition they may not have the ability to handle a full range of experiences and emotions. 

Various events can cause trauma. These events occur from multiple circumstances such as loss of control, abuse of power, pain, loss, or confusion. These events do not necessarily have to rise to levels of high intensity. How a person reacts to a traumatic experience varies from person to person.

You should also note that a traumatic event can vary from one person to the other. This makes it a subjective factor to discuss. However, you should note that it’s defined more by how a person responds to the trigger than the event itself. 


There are four main types of trauma. They include:

  • Acute trauma 
  • Chronic trauma 
  • Complex trauma 
  • Secondary trauma 

Here’s a breakdown of these types of trauma to better your understanding. 


Acute trauma refers to trauma that results from a single event. The event is usually not overwhelming to the person. However, single events such as mass shootings can result in severe symptoms associated with complex trauma. This makes trauma subjective since it varies from one person to the other. 

That being said, some of the typical events that can cause acute trauma are as follows:

  • Rape or sexual assault 
  • Natural disasters, like earthquakes, wildfires, hurricanes, and floods 
  • Terrorist attacks
  • Major injuries 
  • Car crashes 


This type of trauma results from repeated and prolonged exposure to a single traumatic event. Some of the examples of chronically traumatic events include:

  • War or combat 
  • Community violence 
  • Homelessness
  • Community violence 
  • Witnessing abuse to household members or parents 
  • Deprivation, starvation, and neglect 


Complex trauma occurs due to repeated exposure to various traumatic events for an extended period. For instance, it can happen to a child who witnessed physical abuse by their parents in an ongoing civil war.


Secondary trauma occurs when a person is repeatedly exposed to a particularly traumatic event experienced by other people. It can result in secondary traumatic stress disorder2 or STS. Secondary trauma is usually causeed by most events associated with the different kinds of trauma mentioned above. This includes:

  • Witnessing a friend, relative, or parent going through sexual assault
  • Seeing a person being physically assaulted
  • Witnessing a child being neglected or abused 
  • Witnessing an act of nature such as a tornado, hurricane, or flood 
  • Seeing someone being tortured
  • Living in a place with war atrocities 
  • Seeing someone going through a gruesome and violent death 

Secondary trauma usually affects the police officers, paramedics, and firefighters, who are often the first to respond to a traumatic event. Studies have shown that about 4-13% of first responders suffer from secondary traumatic stress disorder3. However, it is fairly common for other groups of people to struggle with secondary trauma. 


Addiction refers to continuous dependence on drugs or engaging in habits you find hard to stop. Factors such as psychological, social, environmental, and biological can cause addiction. It is a chronic dysfunction of your brain system involving your memory, reward, and motivation. 

It influences how your body craves a specific behavior or substance. Especially by causing obsessive or compulsive pursuit of “reward” or “pleasure” without considering the consequences. 

A person with an addiction will most likely show the following habits:

  • Inability to stop addictive behavior or stay away from substances 
  • Lack of self-control 
  • Increased desire for specific behaviors or substances 
  • Dismissing how the behavior they’re engaging in or the substance they use may result in problems

Addiction can significantly interfere with your daily life. Anyone addicted is also prone to remission and relapse. This makes it cycle between mild and intense overdependence on the substance or engaging in a particular behavior. Addiction can also result in serious health complications and bankruptcy. 


There are two types of addiction;

  • Physical addiction
  • Psychological addiction


 Physical addiction is the uncontrollable craving for substances that are ingested or put into a person’s body. Some of the substances that cause physical addiction include:

  • Cocaine 
  • Alcohol 
  • Tobacco 
  • Marijuana 
  • PCP
  • Hallucinogens 
  • Amphetamines 
  • Prescription drugs 

Physical addiction is generally grouped into three categories based on the specific type of substance involved. This includes addiction to prescription drugs, alcohol, and illicit drugs. 

Behavioral addiction refers to uncontrolled engagement in behaviors resulting in brief happiness or feelings. Someone with behavioral addiction may become dependent on pleasurable feelings that result from certain behaviors. They may begin to act on those behaviors compulsively. 

Some of the common behavioral addictions include:

  • Pornography addiction
  • Sex addiction 
  • Use of cell phones and computers 
  • Work addiction 
  • Internet addiction 
  • Exercise addiction 
  • Gambling addiction 
  • Exercise 
  • Seeking pain 
  • A spiritual obsession that’s often confused with religious devotion 
  • Cutting 
  • Video game addiction 

Anyone with impulse control addiction is more susceptible to compulsive behaviors that could result in severe addiction. Similarly, those with mental disorders and issues risk behavioral addiction. 


Every person manifests their addiction differently. It depends on whether their addiction is based on drugs or specific behaviors. For instance, drug addiction can result in a change in your brain functioning and your physical appearance. 

Behavioral addiction symptoms differ from physical symptoms associated with substance abuse. Some of the symptoms related to behavioral addiction include:

  • Increase tolerance 
  • Spending a significant amount of time engaging in addictive behavior or using substances 
  • Having social and relationship problems 
  • The inability to engage or quit the addictive behavior 
  • Abandoning hobbies you used to enjoy 
  • Inability to fulfill work, school, or home obligations 

Addiction usually results from dependency. This is where the victim needs to depend on something to function normally. 


Now that you understand trauma and addiction, it’s time to learn about the relationship between trauma and addiction. Researchers have proposed different pathways to define the relationship between trauma and substance abuse. 

Reviewing various approaches, the connection between these two runs both ways. Trauma can cause addiction, and addiction can cause trauma. Based on what research suggests, it is clear that there is a connection between the two conditions.


The connection between trauma and drug addiction based on the attempts to seek comfort from traumatic experiences is pretty straightforward. When a person is exposed to shock, stress, or abuse, this can cause mental health issues. Consequently, many people resort to substance abuse to deal with adverse effects.

The mechanism behind the use of drugs to deal with the negative traumatic effects is associated with euphoria. Euphoria is an intense effect or experience of happiness or well-being. Though not clearly understood, pleasure or euphoria from drugs usually involves a sudden surge of endorphins. Once a traumatized person takes drugs, they will cause a rise in their endorphins. 

Dopamine reinforcement can also cause drug addiction in people who’ve gone through traumatic experiences. The brain releases dopamine when someone consumes drugs or alcohol. As a result, the person will experience a feeling of pleasure or reward.

This reaction in the brain may increase the odds of repeating the use of the substance. Therefore, you may end up seeking drugs at the expense of other healthier options. The more that people engage in self-medication, they may be more prone to substance abuse. 


Some people may use various substances to numb themselves from their trauma. They may be taking drugs to seek comfort or release. However, this self-medicating can be dangerous. 

In some cases, self-medicating can lead to full blown addiction. Self-medication usually occurs through an attempt to manage trauma using psychoactive drugs. 

Psychoactive drugs affect mental processes such as consciousness, mood, cognition, and perception. It includes common over-the-counter drugs such as dextromethorphan or DXM, Dimenhydrinate, and caffeine. Many people who have gone through traumatic events use psychoactive drugs to deal with stress4 and numb their intense feelings. 


Post-traumatic stress disorder usually develops after prolonged exposure to traumatic events without treatment. The relationship between PTSD and addiction stems from using substances to dampen or distract yourself from PTSD symptoms. One of the hallmarks of PTSD is that affected people tend to avoid remembering. They generally try to avoid thinking about the feelings associated with the trauma.

Therefore, people with PTSD result in substance abuse to disrupt their brain’s normal functioning and block unwanted feelings. Continuous substance abuse usually results in drug addiction. 

The veteran population is one of the highest risk groups of people with PTSD, which result in substance abuse and addiction. The U.S Department of Veteran Affairs reports that most people who seek treatment for substance abuse are diagnosed with PTSD5. This is a result of mental stress and the physical demand of combat. It can also result from sexual trauma, including harassment, abuse, and assault during service. 


Many statistics have shown that trauma creates an environment that results in addiction. However, it’s also crucial to understand that substance abuse can put you at risk of secondary trauma. Various epidemiological studies have shown that about 45 -66% of adolescents with substance abuse disorder have trauma exposure6

Some of these studies have shown a direct association between alcohol use and engaging in risky behaviors. This includes careless and speed driving, hitchhiking, and walking in unsafe places. 

It is also no surprise that adolescents with substance use disorder are more likely to experience trauma. This is due to the likelihood of them engaging in risky behaviors. These behaviors may include harming themselves or witnessing others being harmed. 

There are also reports that youths with substance use disorder are less likely to cope with traumatic events. This is due in part because they are functionally impaired due to drug use. Adolescents with substance abuse were two times more likely to have PTSD after a traumatic event than their sober peers. 


The relationship between childhood trauma and addiction is best understood by knowing how childhood trauma influences brain development. Brain development is heavily influenced by exposure to the environment. When a person is exposed to a negative, traumatic experience, it may alter their brain development. They may be affected by how they cope with memories associated with these experiences. 

Many adults with a history of childhood traumatic experiences develop substance abuse disorder to cope with memories of their traumatizing memories. Various studies have shown a connection between these two. A study revealed a close relationship between emotional and physical childhood and drug or alcohol addiction due to emotional dysregulation7. Other childhood traumatic experiences that can cause addiction in adulthood include:

  • Sexual abuse 
  • Physical assault
  • Emotional abuse includes exposure to a wide range of behaviors such as active manipulation, verbal assault, or ignoring the child 


Years of substance abuse create unique obstacles in the pathway to recovery from trauma and addiction. Therefore, people who have resulted in SUD due to their traumatic experiences or vice-versa should seek addiction and trauma therapy. 

Otherwise, if trauma goes untreated, they will find it hard to stay sober. They may replace their substance dependency with addictive, dangerous coping habits. This makes it crucial to heal from past trauma to recover from addiction. 

Your therapist should adopt evidence-driven therapies to help you heal from trauma and adopt positive coping measures. 

Some of the therapies they can use include:

  • Group therapy
  • Individual therapy
  • Trauma-informed care 
  • Holistic therapy 
  • Cognitive-behavior therapy 

Here’s a brief breakdown of these therapies: 


Group therapy works by creating a safe, nurturing, and accepting environment where participants can share their painful experiences and feelings.

It encourages the re-establishment of trust, validation of experiences, and access to information from the other participants. As a result, participants can face their traumatic experiences, build confidence, and help adopt safe coping mechanisms. 


Individual therapy involves a therapist and the person seeking trauma treatment. Both have a common goal of identifying and dealing with trauma-related symptoms. 

Your therapist will help you build confidence and make you more comfortable discussing traumatic experiences. This will vary the session length, treatment goal, and type of therapy that the therapist will use. 


Trauma-informed care is a treatment approach that seeks to safely treat the patient’s trauma. Treatment providers provide practical healing orientation to patients. It usually involves patient engagement, treatment adherence, and continuous monitoring to avoid re-traumatization. 


This integrative therapy uses various treatments to help a victim holistically. It focuses on the mental, physical, and spiritual factors influencing a person’s well-being. It combines approaches such as hypnosis, meditation, and breath therapy.


This is the most effective therapy. It helps people to connect between their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Participating in this therapy will help you replace negative thinking patterns caused by traumatic events with positive ones


Multiple factors can trigger childhood and adult trauma. This may result in addiction, including substance abuse disorder or psychological addiction. It’s recommended to seek treatment to deal with trauma and addiction and mitigate the effects that may result. 

At White House Recovery and Detox, we adopt various therapies best suited for your trauma and addiction treatment. We understand the importance of comprehensive addiction treatment for trauma and addiction patients. 

Don’t allow trauma and addiction to continue impacting your life. Contact us today and learn how we can help you.  


  1. Substance use, childhood traumatic experience, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in an urban civilian population. (n.d.). NCBI.
  2. Taniguchi, H. (n.d.). Prevalence and predictors of secondary traumatic stress symptoms in health care professionals working with trauma victims: A cross-sectional study. NCBI.
  3. Greinacher A., Derrezza- Greeven C., & Herzog W. (2019). Secondary traumatization in first responders: a systematic review. European journal of psychotraumatology, (10) 1.
  4. Sinha, R. (n.d.). Chronic Stress, Drug Use, and Vulnerability to Addiction. NCBI.
  5. S. Department of Veteran Affairs. (2018, July 24). PTSD: National Center for PTSD: How common is PTSD in veterans.
  6. Hegedus, A. (n.d.). Traumas and other adverse life events in adolescents with alcohol abuse and dependence. PubMed.
  7. (The Relationship Between Childhood Trauma and Suicidal Ideation: Role of Maltreatment and Potential Mediators, 2016)



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