Not having the resources to properly cope with trauma, often leads to addictive behaviors such as drinking and taking drugs. Luckily, there is help available for people suffering from trauma and addiction. 

Trauma counseling, along with other targeted addiction therapies, can address these traumatic memories and experiences healthily, so people can learn to properly manage their trauma and mental health, so these individuals can move forward and live the life that they deserve. 

Everyone has at least one moment that sticks with them forever. For some, it’s a happy memory or accomplishment. Unfortunately for others who experience something traumatic, it’s terrifying, mind-controlling, mentally and physically damaging, demoralizing, stressful, depressing, and all of the above. 

These frightening incidents shape us as people, and, for those with trauma, it can have everlasting adverse effects on all aspects of one’s life, socially, physically, and mentally. Traumatic experiences alter people’s ability to function, mood, and behavior. 

What Is Trauma?

man working through an event in trauma therapy

The American Psychological Association (APA) defines trauma as the occurrence of terrible, disturbing, and life-threatening events, which causes an overwhelming response of emotional and psychological distress. Generally, trauma is subjective, meaning the effects it has varies from person to person. Also, what may be traumatic to one person may not be traumatic to another. 

Sometimes, a person may not even remember the traumatic event that’s causing the effects. Often, individuals cannot remember childhood trauma precisely. 

However, childhood trauma, such as abuse or witnessing domestic violence, can have some of the most prominent effects on a person’s mental health. Trauma therapy helps unlock these memories and teaches the individual how to process them healthily.

The Types of Trauma

According to Nationalcouncil.org, 70 percent or approximately 223.4 million adults in the United States experience traumatic events at least once in their lifetime. 

There is a direct correlation between trauma and the negative effects that it has on mental health and physical health, including such as chronic conditions such as, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, COPD, and hypertension (high blood pressure). 

 There are several types of trauma that people experience. These include:

  • Physical, emotional, or sexual assault
  • War
  • Childhood neglect and abuse
  • Grief and loss
  • Witnessing acts of violence
  • Disease
  • Natural disaster
  • Accidents
  • Cultural and historical trauma (i.e., racism)

Trauma can also have a host of other effects on an individual. Typically, people who experience severe types of psychological trauma will develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

PTSD is a mental health condition that develops as a result of a terrifying incident. When reminded of this traumatic event, it triggers a host of uncontrollable thoughts, and other symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety and fear, etc. 

For example, war can be a very traumatic experience. In fact, veterans experience PTSD at some of the highest rates among other groups. 

Therefore, anything that reminds them of war can trigger flashbacks, panic, and nightmares. War movies and images are common triggers. Even fireworks, which can sound like gunshots, can trigger a panic attack. 

Extreme stress as a result of trauma overwhelms a person’s capacity to cope. Without proper trauma therapy, these thoughts and effects can take control, negatively affecting all aspects of a person’s quality of life. 

The Effects Of Trauma On The Brain

One thing is for certain, trauma affects people in extreme ways, and physically changes the chemistry of our brains. When someone has experienced some type of trauma, their mind alters, because the regions of the brain that may have once functioned normally, now has changed due to this life-altering situation that has occurred. 

People encounter several physical and emotional symptoms that are triggered by things related to the traumatic incident. These symptoms include:

  • Flashbacks and nightmares about the experience
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Irritability and hostility
  • Anxiety 
  • Nausea/vomiting 
  • Suicidal thoughts 

Fight-or-Flight Response To Trauma 

When trauma occurs, it affects people both mentally and physically. Our heart begins to beat a million miles a minute, you breathe faster, and your entire body becomes tense and ready to take some sort of action. 

When a threat appears, the body is conditioned to immediately go into what is called, fight or flight mode. This is known as the acute stress response, which refers to the body’s physical and emotional (physiological) response to a trigger. 

How Fight-Or-Flight Works

Located in the area of the brain called within the temporal lobe, the amygdala is responsible for initiating this reaction in the body, then, stimulates the adrenal glands to release hormones called catecholamines within the sympathetic nervous system. 

These hormones include adrenaline, noradrenaline, and norepinephrine, which prepares the body to mobilize itself to take some sort of action, and either deal with the threat or move to safety. After the threat is gone, the body usually returns to its normal pre-arousal state after 20 minutes to an hour. 

In other words, when someone consciously or subconsciously thinks about their trauma, the amygdala becomes hyperactive, alerting you that there is a threat, and something isn’t right. Within the sympathetic nervous system, initiating physiological changes in the brain. Your body and brain are telling you that you’re hurting and need help. 

Unperceived Threats 

Phobias are a good example of an unperceived or imaginary threat. For instance, a person who is terrified of heights has to go to the top floor of a skyscraper for a meeting, or a person scared of public speaking needs to give a speech in class. 

When these phobias or fears present themselves, their bodies are alerted that there might be a perceived threat, and therefore, they start to sweat, feel nauseous. When the fight-or-flight response is more severe in some cases, a person with these types of fears can result in a panic attack as a means of trying to survive and cope with the situation. 

Panic attacks, fast heart rate, nausea, sweating, these are just our body’s way of reacting to fear, even when there is no real threat. Sometimes our body turns on fight-or-flight as a way to protect us from things, even though there may not be a real threat present. 

This type of stress caused by the fight-or-flight response can help someone perform better in situations where you are under pressure to do well, such as at work or school. 

Fight-or-Flight Importance: Dealing With Trauma

The fight-or-flight response is a huge part of dealing with any type of trauma. It not only prepares our bodies to protect ourselves either by fighting or fleeing danger, but this acute physiological response to trauma plays a critical role in how we deal and cope with any type of stress and danger in our lives. 

While fight-or-flight is triggered during real-life situations, it is important to note, that this response can also be initiated due to both real and non-threats, meaning brought on by fears. While this response happens automatically, sometimes it is not always accurate. Sometimes when there is no real threat, but fear is involved, fight-or-flight occurs to help overcome certain situations. 

This physiological reaction is extremely important, especially for those with drug and alcohol addiction, because in recovery, the stress of being in treatment and all the stigma attached to it can cause stress, depression, anxiety, etc. 

Therefore, the stress created by situations can be positive and helpful, because it can teach us how to effectively cope with threats and danger, and also fear of failure. 

In this case, we are referring to addiction recovery and maintaining sobriety. This fight-or-flight response allows for the probability that one can eventually overcome their fear and trauma to live a high-quality life.

How Fight-Or-Flight Works

Located in the area of the brain called within the temporal lobe, the amygdala is responsible for initiating this reaction in the body, then, stimulates the adrenal glands to release hormones called catecholamines within the sympathetic nervous system. 

These hormones include adrenaline, noradrenaline, and norepinephrine, which prepares the body to mobilize itself to take some sort of action, and either deal with the threat or move to safety. After the threat is gone, the body usually returns to its normal pre-arousal state after 20 minutes to an hour.

In other words, when someone consciously or subconsciously thinks about their trauma, the amygdala becomes hyperactive, alerting you that there is a threat, and something isn’t right. Within the sympathetic nervous system, initiating physiological changes in the brain. Your body and brain are telling you that you’re hurting and need help. 

Unperceived Threats 

Phobias are a good example of an unperceived or imaginary threat. For instance, a person who is terrified of heights has to go to the top floor of a skyscraper for a meeting, or a person scared of public speaking needs to give a speech in class.

When these phobias or fears present themselves, their bodies are alerted that there might be a perceived threat, and therefore, they start to sweat, feel nauseous. When the fight-or-flight response is more severe in some cases, a person with these types of fears can result in a panic attack as a means of trying to survive and cope with the situation. 

Panic attacks, fast heart rate, nausea, sweating, these are just our body’s way of reacting to fear, even when there is no real threat. Sometimes our body turns on fight-or-flight as a way to protect us from things, even though there may not be a real threat present. 

This type of stress caused by the fight-or-flight response can help someone perform better in situations where you are under pressure to do well, such as at work or school. 

Fight-or-Flight Importance: Dealing With Trauma

The fight-or-flight response is a huge part of dealing with any type of trauma. It not only prepares our bodies to protect ourselves either by fighting or fleeing danger, but this acute physiological response to trauma plays a critical role in how we deal and cope with any type of stress and danger in our lives.

While fight-or-flight is triggered during real-life situations, it is important to note, that this response can also be initiated due to both real and non-threats, meaning brought on by fears. While this response happens automatically, sometimes it is not always accurate. Sometimes when there is no real threat, but fear is involved, fight-or-flight occurs to help overcome certain situations. 

This physiological reaction is extremely important, especially for those with drug and alcohol addiction, because in recovery, the stress of being in treatment and all the stigma attached to it can cause stress, depression, anxiety, etc. 

Therefore, the stress created by situations can be positive and helpful, because it can teach us how to effectively cope with threats and danger, and also fear of failure. 

In this case, we are referring to addiction recovery and maintaining sobriety. This fight-or-flight response allows for the probability that one can eventually overcome their fear and trauma to live a high-quality life. 

Trauma and Addiction

Trauma and addiction go hand-in-hand. Research has proven that trauma is a major risk factor in nearly all substance use disorders. When someone has experienced a life-altering experience they often don’t know how to cope with it properly, as it has not only severely changed their perceptions on all aspects of life, but they are also physically and mentally scarred. 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a common mental illness that occurs as a result of trauma. When these events are too hard for individuals to cope with or handle, it is very common for individuals with PTSD to rely on self-medication and drinking alcohol. 

In other words, when someone experiences a trigger or can’t sleep due to nightmares from the trauma they have experienced recently or in the past, people often turn to drugs and alcohol as a means of relief. They believe that drinking heavily or doing drugs will help them to cope and erase these horrible thoughts and memories of the traumatic events. 

However, despite the consequences both mentally and physically, people will do anything to rid themselves of their pain. Over time, the body gets used to these substances being used, which results in developing a tolerance and dependence, and eventually an addiction. 

When addiction and mental illness such as trauma occur simultaneously, this is called dual diagnosis or a co-occurring disorder. 

Without trauma therapy to address the negative effects of PTSD, a person risks developing a severe addiction and other complications including overdose, or worse death.

It is essential to find a treatment center that offers dual diagnosis treatment. Treating just the addiction or just the trauma will not solve the overall issue. Both conditions need treatment concurrently to ensure the person has the tools they need to combat substance abuse. 

Without these skills and techniques to manage trauma triggers, the risk and probability of relapse are extremely high. This is why trauma-informed care for addiction is vital.

Overcoming Trauma and Addiction With Therapy

Coping With Trauma 

Traumatic experiences often arouse strong, disturbing feelings that may or may not dissipate on their own. Usually, following the aftermath of a traumatic event, it is all too common to experience and feel a multitude of emotions, such as fear, guilt, shame, shock, anxiety, and vulnerability. 

Also, trauma causes people to feel overpowered and a sense of helplessness, which is what often deters them from getting the necessary treatment they need to live a high-quality life. However, there is no shame in admitting you need help. If anything, it makes people a role model, a leader, and is very empowering. 

It is possible to find resources to help you or a loved one develop healthy ways of coping with traumatic experiences and the severe effects that it can have. Research on trauma has shown that there are various ways to recover from trauma and addiction.

At LA Detox, our multidisciplinary team of therapists, addiction specialists, and psychologists pride themselves in helping people suffering from addiction and mental health. We are here to provide support as you begin your journey to sobriety.

During any of our addiction treatment programs, we offer trauma therapy and many other types of modalities to give you comprehensive support. These can include:

Understanding the body’s natural fight-or-flight response is one beneficial way we help patients to cope with their traumatic situations. 

When someone notices that they are becoming stressed or tense, our trauma therapy programs help individuals learn techniques on how to learn ways to calm down and relax their bodies in fearful situations, so they can quickly and efficiently deal with whatever they need to do without panic and fear looming over their heads. 

Our comprehensive set of trauma therapy programs will ensure our clients a successful and long-lasting recovery, with trauma and fear no longer controlling all aspects of their life. 

If you or a loved one is suffering from trauma and addiction, contact us at LA Detox today to receive the help you need, and live the healthy and sober lifestyle that you deserve!  

References

https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-the-fight-or-flight-response-2795194

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/trauma

https://www.thenationalcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Trauma-infographic.pdf

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/coping-with-emotional-and-psychological-trauma.htm

https://www.apa.org/topics/trauma/