The slippery slope from trauma to addiction
Have traumatic experiences in your past?
Are painful emotions overwhelming you?
Do you turn to substances to cope?
Do addictions control you?
Past experiences can cause real pain. When you can’t escape the resulting emotions from those experiences, even if it was years ago, many will turn to substances to ease that emotional pain. Trauma can lead to a reliance on and even an addiction to substances. Trauma becomes a gateway to addictions, which makes life even more difficult.
What is trauma?
Trauma is defined as an emotional response to a shocking event like a terrible car accident or a violent experience. Immediately after the event, the sufferer typically experiences a jolt to their physical and emotional system. Their brain must store and be able to recall the experience in order to protect from potentially similar experiences. Trauma can be a one-time event. It can also be “complex” when the experience happens over and over.
Unfortunately, as life continues the sufferer can be highly sensitive to reminders or have flashbacks of the event accompanied with the same intense emotions as though it’s all happening again. This “re-experience” can include physical symptoms like chronic fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and gastrointestinal issues. The resulting experience is overwhelming and miserable.
What is addiction?
Addiction here is defined as any substance, thing or activity to which one seeks out repeatedly despite negative consequences. This can be anything from gambling, shopping, going to the gym, using alcohol, nicotine or illegal substances. Through these external substances or activities, a need is getting met. The need to escape the pain! This activates the reward and reinforcement part of the brain creating motivation to continue even though there are strong reasons to stop. If you want to read more, here is an article at Psychologytoday.com that goes further into addiction
What to do?
If you’re using substances or activities to numb or distract yourself from the pain of trauma and want to stop, it’s challenging to know where to begin. Giving up the addiction without a new skill or tool might be too difficult. How would you cope when the thoughts and emotions return? On the flip side, it’s very difficult to make progress in trauma work if you’re using a substance and maintaining the old pain/reward system. This prevents you from learning new tolerance and practicing new skills.
You need support
If you can break an addiction on your own, fantastic. However, if you can’t you might need some backup. Healing from the trauma so that it becomes only a memory and not a trigger for overwhelming emotions is the goal and possible. This is where a skilled counselor you trust, can make the difference. Having someone to guide you toward healing, being compassionate about the addiction, while working to help you break the reliance is key.
Tools like Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), Lifespan Integration Therapy along with gold standards like Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and mindfulness, are techniques we use at Bellevue Family Counseling. If you’re looking to get off the slippery slope and break free, book an appointment and get started today.