Imagine living through a natural disaster or being on the battlegrounds in the middle of a war. These types of disturbing events that cause a person to fear for their life can result in a person experiencing trauma that can cause long-lasting negative effects.

The impact trauma can have on a person can be subtle, insidious, or even outright destructive. The way that trauma affects a person depends on a lot of different factors such as characteristics or resiliency of the individual, characteristics of the event, where the person is in their developmental process, and sociocultural factors. If a person is unable to cope with their trauma they may turn to substance abuse in an attempt to numb out the pain.

Emotional and Physical Trauma

Emotional and physical trauma is caused by experiencing extremely stressful and disturbing events that make you feel deeply distressed. A person can be exposed to trauma in a few different ways. Trauma can be ongoing such as child abuse or military combat. Trauma can also be a one-time event such as a car accident or sexual assault. Both types of trauma can cause devastating consequences if a person cannot cope with it.

After a traumatic event occurs, shock and denial tend to sink in. If a person cannot cope on their own and does not seek help in overcoming their trauma it can result in unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, and physical symptoms like headaches and nausea. Trauma can cause people to have a very hard time moving on with their everyday lives.

Trauma might cause a person to experience emotional and psychological symptoms such as exhaustion, confusion, shock, denial, disbelief, sadness, anxiety, fear, agitation, numbness, dissociation, confusion, psychical arousal, anger, mood swings, guilt, shame, blame, and blunted affect. If a person has a delayed response to their trauma it can result in constant fatigue, racing heartbeat, aches, pain, sleep disorders, muscle tension, nightmares, fear of the event happening again, anxiety focused on flashbacks, depression, and avoidance of emotions, sensations, or activities that are associated with the trauma. These are all normal responses that a person experiences when confronted with abnormal events.

Substance Abuse

A lot of people who have experienced child abuse, criminal attack, disasters, war, or other traumatic experiences have turned to alcohol or drugs to help them numb the emotional pain, blackout the bad memories, help them sleep, and fend off the feelings of guilt, shame, anxiety, or terror. According to the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, there is a strong link between exposure to traumatic events and substance use problems. 1 in 4 to 3 in 4 people who have survived abusive or violent traumatic events reported an alcohol problem. 1 in 10 to 1 in 3 people who have survived accidents, illness, or disaster-related trauma reported an alcohol abuse problem. Around 80 percent of Vietnam veterans who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) also have alcohol use disorders. These statistics all indicate the association between being faced with trauma and using alcohol or other substances as a way to cope.


The act of using alcohol or other drugs to relieve emotional or physical pain caused by trauma is called self-medicating. People often use alcohol, cocaine, barbiturates, opioids, or amphetamines to try to relieve their emotional pain or forget their past events. Substance abuse in people who experience trauma can be a way to self-medicate in an attempt to avoid or displace difficult emotions that are associated with their traumatic event.

Unfortunately, the relief a person gets from substance abuse is only temporary. Soon enough the thoughts, feelings, and emotions associated with that traumatic event flood back into a person's mind. The use of substances to reduce symptoms can be extremely harmful. Substance abuse reduces a person's ability to concentrate, be productive at work or school, get adequate sleep, and cope with their traumatic memories and the triggers in their environment. Substance abuse can also increase a person’s chances of experiencing a life threatening overdose.

Finding Help

If you or someone you love is experiencing substance abuse as a result of a traumatic event finding a high-quality rehab clinic can help. Alcohol and drug abuse rehabilitation centers use a whole treatment approach by combining mental health professionals and medical professionals to help you overcome your addiction. Therapists and medical professionals will develop an individualized treatment plan with special attention given to your unique trauma, substance abuse, and the relationship between the two. The mental health counselors will help you get to the root cause behind your drinking and trauma, develop skills to help you cope in healthy ways with your trauma, and help you overcome your addiction.

References

Emotional and Psychological Trauma. Help Guide.

Inpatient Alcohol Rehab Options. Sunshine Behavioral Health.

Trauma. American Psychological Association.

Traumatic Stress and Substance Abuse Problems. International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies.

Understanding the Impact of Trauma. Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Sciences.