Exploring the Link Between Trauma & Substance Abuse

calendarAugust 11, 2023

Trauma can manifest in various forms, such as childhood abuse, neglect, accidents, natural disasters, combat experiences, or any situation that threatens one’s safety and well-being. And the link between trauma and substance abuse is a complex and well-studied phenomenon.

At West Valley Detox & Residential Treatment we create a safe space for our clients to discuss past traumatic experiences and process them with a trauma-trained therapist. The link between trauma and substance abuse underscores the need for integrated and trauma-informed approaches to treatment. We believe effective treatment should address both the trauma and the substance abuse to promote long-term recovery and healing.

Although not everyone who experiences trauma will develop a substance use disorder, and not all individuals who abuse substances have experienced trauma.

Therapy modalities such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and other trauma-focused therapies can be effective in addressing both trauma and substance use disorders concurrently.

In this week’s blog we are unpacking why trauma and substance abuse often occur hand-in-hand.

  1. Coping Mechanism: People who have experienced trauma often use substances as a way to cope with the emotional distress and pain caused by their traumatic experiences. Drugs and alcohol may provide temporary relief from anxiety, depression, nightmares, and other distressing symptoms associated with trauma.
  2. Self-Medication: Some individuals may turn to substances as a form of self-medication to alleviate the emotional and psychological symptoms that arise from trauma. They may use substances to numb feelings of fear, anger, shame, and guilt related to the traumatic event.
  3. Escapism: Substance use can provide a temporary escape from the intrusive thoughts and memories associated with trauma. People might use substances to detach from reality and temporarily avoid confronting the traumatic experience.
  4. Altered Perception: Substances can alter an individual’s perception and consciousness, providing a break from the distressing thoughts and emotions linked to trauma. This altered state can be appealing to those seeking relief from their psychological pain.
  5. Neurobiological Factors: Trauma can have lasting effects on the brain’s reward and stress systems. Substance abuse can further impact these systems, creating a cycle where the brain’s natural response to trauma is exacerbated by the use of substances.
  6. Vulnerability to Addiction: Individuals who have experienced trauma might be more vulnerable to developing substance use disorders due to the way trauma can affect brain chemistry, making them more susceptible to addiction.
  7. Social Isolation and Peer Influence: Trauma can lead to social isolation and difficulty forming healthy relationships. This isolation may make it more likely for individuals to associate with peers who also use substances, creating an environment conducive to substance abuse.
  8. Interpersonal Difficulties: Trauma can lead to difficulties in interpersonal relationships, which may contribute to feelings of loneliness and alienation. Substances can temporarily alleviate these feelings, making them more appealing to individuals struggling with trauma-related relationship challenges.

Don’t struggle alone with issues related to trauma and substance abuse. West Valley Detox & Residential Treatment provides trauma-informed care to address past traumatic experiences.

From the beginning, our mission has been to facilitate real change and growth in our clients. To achieve this, we provide a comfortable, home-like atmosphere, a staff comprised of talented and experienced professionals, and programs that cultivate valuable relapse prevention skills.

We offer a zero-commitment consultation. Call us on 818 302 0036 or email admissionsteam@westvalleydetox.com.

For other ways to connect – visit our Contact Page.
Offering care at two locations in the Los Angeles area.


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2 thoughts on “Exploring the Link Between Trauma & Substance Abuse”

  1. Hi, member of my family. I just wanted to say how fantastic this article is—it’s nicely written and has nearly all of the important details. I hope to see more content similar to this one.


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