As discussed in previous podcasts, traumatic events can lead to unhealthy patterns of thinking. In turn, these patterns can manifest as substance addictions and other negative ways of coping, such as behavioral addictions, with the traumatic residue.
Let’s lay the foundation and explain how trauma is related to addiction. I will start today’s podcast by explaining what I mean by substance use disorders and behavioral addictions.
Simple put, substance addiction occurs when someone is addicted to the use of substances such as drugs or alcohol. To be diagnosed as having a substance use disorder, there are three stages: mild, moderate and severe. According to the DSM-5 (a diagnostic manual used by mental health professionals) a few of the common symptoms are: cravings intense enough to affect your ability to think about other things, risky substance use, like driving or working while using, and an inability to stop using the substance and experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit. Some of the most common addictive substances include: alcohol, heroin, opioids, cannabis, nicotine, benzodiazepines and cocaine.
Behavioral addictions refers to addiction that involves compulsive behaviors. These are persistent, repeated behaviours that you carry out even if they don't offer any real benefit. Things such as gambling, internet gaming and shopping are known as compulsive behaviors.
People with compulsive behavioral addictions will experience several symptoms including: lying to hide activity, feeling irritable or restless when trying to stop and losing jobs or relationships because of it.
So, how are these addictive behaviors the result of trauma? We have talked about how traumatic events are emotionally distressing or disturbing and are subjective. While most people will recover on their own, some require treatment. In light of this, it's understandable that trauma does not automatically cause problems with drugs and alcohol; however, many people with trauma do have problems with addiction. Let’s discuss the deeper darker side of addictions and traumas and how they play a key role in each other.
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When I first started my work in the addiction field, over 20 years ago, I was thrown into the lion's den, so to speak. I worked with women who had come fresh from our prison system. When I started to get to know the women, I began to see that trauma was in every single woman’s background.
Not just a behaviour but total chaos was prevalent in each and every one of their lives. Most all came from broken homes filled with sexual, physical, emotional and verbal abuse.