Underlying Causes of Addiction
Addiction recovery is about overcoming drug and alcohol use. But recovery will not last long if the person does not address the underlying causes. One underlying factor that can drive addiction is trauma. Contrary to what many people think, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is not something only veterans experience. PTSD can develop any time a traumatic, high-stress event is not processed properly by the brain. The end result is a set of symptoms that typically manifest later on, after the trauma has ended.
People who experience trauma, such as witnessing intense violence, being a victim of violence or abuse, or undergoing a stressful life event, may relive those experiences over and over again. A sound or a smell may take them right back to the pain and fear they felt during an event. Watching a violent movie may make them remember the abuse they suffered as a child. In these moments, a person feels intense fear and even physical pain. They may dissociate from the present, feeling as if they are caught in the past.
What About Addiction to Drugs and Alcohol?
For men and women battling PTSD, finding a way to control those thoughts, memories, and triggers can become vital. If they cannot manage them, they may find it difficult to continue to meet daily responsibilities or to manage stress.
Drugs and alcohol typically become a way of self-medicating. They do not treat the underlying problem, but they do help to stop the thoughts for a short amount of time. This can seem like a solution to some. Yet, addiction forms, leading to physical cravings and painful withdrawal if the person tries to stop using.
How Can PTSD-Related Addiction Be Treated?
In the case of a co-occurring disorder like PTSD and addiction, treating the PTSD becomes a critical component of addiction recovery. Treatment programs that include therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy can help a person to learn how to disconnect their past trauma from their present thoughts. The person learns how to work through negative thoughts more effectively so that their thoughts do not trigger feelings of fear and loss of control.
For example, if a person was abused as a child by a relative or family friend they typically saw only near the holidays, they may associate a specific holiday with memories of that trauma. When the holidays approach each year, they tend to drink heavily and make excuses for not participating.
Treatment may focus on breaking that connection between trauma and the holidays, freeing the person to experience the holidays in a healthy way.
The Importance of Proper Treatment
During drug and alcohol treatment, which should occur alongside PTSD or trauma treatment, a person first needs to break through the addiction and dependency. This allows the person to regain control over their actions and to achieve a level of stability.
Keep in mind that treating the substance use disorder without treating the PTSD is unlikely to be successful. Only by receiving treatment for both addiction and trauma, can a person learn to overcome their unique challenges and start on a path toward recovery.
Your Path Is Unique
You may have trauma in your past that has impacted your present life. You may not know why you have a hard time dealing with it. You may push out thoughts or feelings when they creep into your mind. However, reaching out for treatment can help you to eliminate those painful memories and set you on a path for life-long well-being.