Recent studies have shown a link between trauma and addiction. Childhood trauma is receiving special attention, with studies reporting that between 50 to 96 percent of substance abusers experienced a major childhood stressor, such as abandonment, physical and emotional abuse, humiliation, bullying, unrealistic expectations, comparing with others, or chaos caused by substance abuse in the family. Wartime veterans and crime survivors are often diagnosed with post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) that results in addiction; even traumatic experiences like divorce, being fired from a job, and financial stress have been traced to increased substance use or the beginning of substance abuse.
When an addicted individual seeks help and has psychological symptoms that include learned helplessness, numbness, lack of emotional control, emotional triggering, inability to trust, hypervigilance, depression and/or anxiety, work begins with uncovering and dealing with past trauma. Rehab facilities, in particular, are focusing more attention on this aspect of addiction by including specialized programs for dealing with co-occurring trauma and addiction. Traumatic memories are stored not only in brain cells, but in cells throughout the body, which means trauma lies deep, not only within the mind but also within the body; therefore, various levels of trauma treatment are being used for healing, including physical modalities such as dance, physical therapy, massage and yoga.
Studies have found that a key factor to treating trauma, whether from childhood or from adult experiences, is social support. The human stress system is designed to calm down with a compassionate word or touch. Whether that comes from other addicted individuals in 12-step programs, from family, friends or other loved ones, nurturing is known to help heal trauma.
Stimulating the creative side of addicted persons has also been successful in healing trauma. Journaling, creative writing, drawing, sewing, and music can give voice to those who may feel they were disempowered by their trauma.