Trauma And Addiction
Trauma and addiction are inextricably linked. Although not everyone who has experienced a trauma will go on to have an addiction, you can pretty much guarantee that anyone with an addiction will have undergone some form of trauma, whether in their childhood or as an adult. In the article, we will explore this link and explain a little more about the intricacies of the links between the two. We’ll explore what trauma actually is and how addressing it can help in the process of recovery from addiction.
Addiction – A Complex Physiological Process
Addiction is a complex physiological process which manifests in any behavior that a person enjoys, and finds some form of relief or escape in the short term, but suffers negative consequences in the long -term. Despite the negative consequences the addict will continue this behavior and demonstrate an inability or unwillingness to give it up.
Notice this description did not mention substances. The behavior could be related to cocaine, crystal meth, heroin, alcohol, marijuana, or nicotine, but it could also be sex, gambling, internet relationships, shopping, eating, work, extreme sports, working out, pornography or any number of human activities.
Traditional research suggests addiction is a primary brain disorder that arises in the brain largely due to genetic reasons. Another popular idea is that substance abuse is a choice that somebody makes. People choose to be addicted.
However, the more popular theory gaining momentum is that addiction can often be traced to childhood trauma, that trauma and addiction are linked, and that the addiction is an attempt to deal with the effects of childhood trauma.
What Is Trauma?
Now this leads to the question of trauma: because it’s one thing to recognize that all this originates in childhood pain, but it’s quite another to transform that pain. For that, we have to understand the concept of trauma, which will further our understanding of trauma and addiction.
People often think that trauma is what happens to you. (i.e. trauma is a divorce, when you’re small and your parents fighting, trauma is your mother’s depression, trauma is your father’s alcoholism trauma is your parents arguing, trauma is physical or sexual abuse or some loss, trauma is violence.
Those events are traumatic but the trauma is not what happens to you. Trauma is what happens inside you and as a result of these traumatic events.
- You get disconnected from your emotions and you disconnect it from your body.
- You have difficulty being in the present moment.
- You develop a negative view of your world and a negative view of yourself
- You develop a defensive view of other people.
These perspectives keep showing up in your life and in the present.
A Trauma-based Approach To Addiction
Human beings have two fundamental needs apart from physical needs in infancy in childhood.
Attachment is the closeness and proximity with another human being for the sake of being looked after or for the sake of looking after the other. Human beings, as mammals are creatures of attachment. We have to connect and attach because otherwise we don’t survive. As infants and children, if there’s nobody that’s motivated to take care of us, to attach to us in a loving and caring way, then we may not be not motivated to attach to others. In this way we cannot survive.
Endorphins are natural feel good chemicals in our body that are produced with love and affection as children that facilitate attachment. In early childhood, if we grow up in an environment where there is stress and trauma, our endorphin systems don’t develop properly.
Opiate chemicals such as heroin, oxycontin, Vicodin fentanyl, codeine and all the other opiates are able to mimic the endorphins we feel naturally that facilitate attachment. For example, when people do heroin, it feels like a warm soft hug to them. They may feel love and connection for the first time or in a way you have not felt before. That’s why these drugs are so powerful.
If you take infant mice and you knock out their endorphin receptors so they don’t have endorphin opiate activity in their brain, they won’t cry for help. They will separate from their mothers which means mean that they would die in the wild.
Humans are the most hopeless, the most dependent, the least mature of any creature in the world at birth. We cannot survive without the attachment to our parents. That attachment relationship given that we have the longest period of development of any creature (well into adolescence and beyond) That attachment is not a negotiable need.
Our other need is authenticity which means being connected to ourselves; just knowing what we feel and being able to act on our gut feelings.
Authenticity is a survival need. But what happens if your authenticity threatens your attachment relationships.
For example, let’s say one of your mother or father was raised in a home where there was rage and alcoholism. They have grown up and learned to fear rage and anger in any form. They experienced dysfunction in the home due to alcoholism. Now, fast forward twenty years and they have you as their child.
And you, as a three-year-old want to have a cookie before dinner and they won’t allow it. As a three-year-old you throw a tantrum in anger. Your parents may not be able to handle your temper tantrum. They can’t handle anger of any kind, because they grew up in homes when there was rage and alcoholism.
They’re terrified that at the very expression of anger, so they give you the message that good little kids don’t get angry. The message you receive is not that good little kids don’t get angry, but that angry little kids don’t get loved, because your parents are now sullen, they won’t look at you or they will talk to you in a harsh way. You’re not getting loved.
You’re not experiencing love, but you’ve still got to stay attached in order to survive. And now guess what? You’re going to suppress that authenticity every time and this is how we lose connection to ourselves and to our gut feelings.
So that, strangely enough, that very dynamic which is essential for human survival, in a natural setting now becomes a threat to our survival.
In this more modern setting, where staying authentic threatens attachment, we give up our authenticity and then we wonder: Who’s life is this? Who’s experiencing all this? Who am I really?
So, this is where the healing happens, through reconnection. It’s because of that conflict, the tragic conflict in childhood between authenticity and attachment that we lose ourselves and lose connection to our gut feelings.
The Link Between Addiction and Trauma
Trauma and addiction are linked but addiction is not the primary problem, it’s an attempt to solve a problem.
Addiction does help deal with childhood trauma temporarily, but it creates even more problems in the long-term.
So, the issue is not just to recognize what happened ten or fifteen or thirty years ago, the issue is to actually recognize their manifestations in the present moment and to transcend them. We do that by reconnecting with ourselves, by restoring the connection with your body, and with your emotions that you lost. Once you do, when you find these things again, then you have what we call recovery. What does it mean to recover something? It means to find it again.
So, what do the people find when they recover? They find themselves because the loss of self is the essence of trauma.
So, the real purpose of addiction treatment, mental health treatment or any kind of healing, is reconnection with yourself, severing the link between trauma and addiction.
You might be reading this and recognise yourself in what’s been written. Or perhaps you know of someone who has been through rehab but needs some help maintaining their hard-earned sobriety. Maybe you or they need help with where to go next on the road to recovery, the path to a long-lasting, sober lifestyle. If this is the case, please, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. Remember you are not alone. We understand what you’re going through as many of us have been through it ourselves. You can reach us through our Facebook, WhatsApp, or call us anytime.