When I was in my twenties, I met a teenager who lived in a group home nearby. I saw so much potential in this smart, funny, kind, charming young woman. She spent the final months before she turned 18 in my home, and I was eager to see how her future would turn out.
Trauma & Addiction
Unfortunately, in spite of everything she had going for her, she died before the age of 30 due to severe substance abuse. Her cause of death was the same as her mother’s and her grandmother’s. It would be easy to point a finger and say she should have known better, given her family history, but her family history was the very thing that made it so hard for her to escape this outcome.
Trauma Is the Gateway Drug
The Children’s Mental Health Network (CMHN) refers to trauma as the gateway drug that brings people to addiction, and this was true for the young woman I knew, as well as for her mother and her grandmother. Generation upon generation of her family had experienced substantial trauma but were unable to get the support they needed to work through it. Citing the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study, the CMHN points out that people who have experienced a lot of trauma in childhood are:
- 500 percent more likely to abuse alcohol
- 7 to 10 times more likely to abuse illicit substances
- Up to 46 times more likely to use IV drugs
Why Trauma Leads to Addiction
Trauma is something difficult that happens to us, that overwhelms our ability to cope. Trauma can happen to us at any age, in the form of natural disasters, war, abuse, the loss of a loved one, extreme poverty, or a number of other things. For children especially, trauma can have long-lasting effects because children have not had the chance to develop coping skills and may not understand what is happening to them or why. People who experience trauma, if they don’t receive appropriate support, carry that pain with them for years to come.
Substances give a person temporary relief from their pain, and people who are struggling with the agony of trauma desperately need that reprieve. Whether the person is a soldier returning from a war zone, a child abuse survivor, or the loved one who lost a family member, they are looking for a way to make the pain stop, even just for a little while. Ideally, this person would have a range of options, such as calling friends and family, going to therapy, or seeking out spiritual support, but people often don’t have or know about these options when they begin using substances.
What Can Be Done
For years, doctors, social workers, and mental health practitioners have been utilizing trauma-informed approaches to ensure that they are being mindful of the trauma their clients may have endured. Foster parents are often trained on how trauma may affect the children who enter their homes and how to respond to behaviors that may arise from this trauma.
Indeed, trauma-informed care is now spreading to other fields, including law, fitness, photography, and tattooing. Recognizing that trauma is very common (most people have had at least one traumatic event in their life), professionals in a variety of fields are doing what they can to be mindful of the triggers their clientele may experience while receiving services.
While this does not mean that a tattoo artist or a yoga instructor is going to be offering therapy, it means that they are choosing to be mindful of how trauma may impact their customer’s comfort with them and the work they are doing. This can be especially helpful in a setting where physical contact is likely to occur. Having permission before touching a person can make them feel more safe and comfortable.
We Are Here to Help
If you or someone you love has experienced trauma and is using substances to cope with the emotional burden of that trauma, Safe Harbor Recovery Center can help. Our compassionate, skilled practitioners take a whole-person approach to treatment, recognizing that it is impossible to treat addiction in isolation from a person’s history. You don’t have to suffer. Reach out today and take the first step toward sobriety and mental health.