The Link Between Complex Trauma and Addiction

by | Feb 18, 2020 | Dual Diagnosis

Complex trauma and addiction

Substance use disorder develops in individuals for a number of reasons. Addiction is a disease that knows no specific gender, nationality, race, or economic status. Research shows one of the primary reasons for dependency is the event of trauma in an individual’s life. The National Council for Behavioral Health estimates 70 percent of adults in the U.S. have suffered some type of traumatic event within their lifetime. Science reveals trauma is a major risk factor in nearly all behavioral health and substance use disorders. Complex trauma and addiction are highly connected. Research shows drug dependency can be directly connected to complex trauma experienced during adolescence when it’s never properly diagnosed and treated.

One in four children and adolescents in the United States experiences at least one potentially traumatic event before the age of 16. Studies indicate that up to 59 percent of young people with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) subsequently develop substance abuse problems. When drugs or alcohol are used as self-medication or a way to deal with past trauma, it becomes more difficult for an individual to stop using. Understanding complex trauma and how it can lead to substance use disorder calls for an individual to be properly diagnosed for addiction and mental health challenges caused by the trauma.

What is Complex Trauma?

A Psychology Today article credits Dr. Christine Courtois with defining complex trauma as “a type of trauma that occurs repeatedly and cumulatively, usually over a period of time and within specific relationships and contexts.” This type of direct harm, especially when it occurs often over a prolonged timeframe, can create “conditions of vulnerability associated with disability, disempowerment, dependency, age, infirmity, and others.”

Complex trauma often occurs in childhood and adolescence, but an acknowledgment of the event typically doesn’t happen until adulthood, and even then, treatment is scarce. The Adverse Childhood Experience Study (ACES) found that survivors of childhood trauma are up to 5,000 percent more likely to attempt suicide, have eating disorders, or become IV drug users. This makes early diagnosis and treatment essential to living a healthy, well life for these individuals.

The effects of complex trauma on the body are profound. Physical, mental, and emotional challenges are derived from complex trauma, including:

  • Resistance to relationships: Victims of complex trauma find it difficult to form and nurture strong relationships. Trust is often lacking, and victims find it difficult to express or control emotions.
  • Unable to handle stress: The brain can begin to interpret any stressful event as “extreme” stress, causing the victim to respond irrationally, often turning to drugs.
  • Restricted emotional responses: Complex trauma can cause victims to have a limited available response to emotional situations. They often have difficulty identifying, expressing, and managing emotions.
  • Dissociation: The complex trauma victim may learn to dissociate themselves from their own bodies or reality. They begin viewing their life as something that is happening to them, not something they are actively involved in.
  • Behavior: An internal struggle may exist that prohibits the victim from knowing how to calm down, forcing them to act out in violence or self-harm, including drug use.

Complex trauma can affect a victim’s physical, emotional, and mental state. Diagnosing the patient on all levels as opposed to only addressing the drug dependency is key to achieving sobriety.

Dual Diagnosis for Complex Trauma and Addiction

The service systems targeting substance abuse and mental health problems that derive from complex trauma have traditionally been fragmented. Soul Surgery Rehab is different. As a leading drug treatment center in Scottsdale, AZ, Soul Surgery is focused on dual diagnosis and the positive outcomes for patients battling substance use disorder and mental health issues. Dual diagnosis offers assessment and treatment of substance use issues and mental health problems, like anxiety, eating disorders, depression, bipolar disorders, neurodevelopmental disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more.

Complex trauma changes the way a person perceives themselves, those around them, and daily life events. It takes a highly-experienced Scottsdale drug treatment facility to personalize treatment plans for each patient and to accurately and effectively treat co-occurring disorders. The drug treatment specialists at Soul Surgery Rehab consider your substance use and mental health while creating a treatment plan that’s personalized to your needs. Don’t continue to live in the aftermath of complex trauma by self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. Contact the professional drug treatment team at Soul Surgery to take your first steps into a balanced, sober life.

Soul Surgery
Soul Surgery Integrative Medicine Addiction Centers works with clients to bring healing and recovery for those suffering with drug and alcohol use, current or past trauma, mental health issues, and other life experiences. Located in Scottsdale, AZ, we provide addiction treatment, drug and alcohol detox, dual diagnosis treatment, mental health treatment, and medication assisted treatment on both an inpatient and outpatient basis.

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