Trauma and Addiction

Trauma is a physical or emotional injury from the past this still causes emotional pain in the present. Due to its long-lasting effects and emotional interference with our daily lives, people suffering from trauma are easily frustrated, develop low-self esteem; and may use unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with these disturbing feelings. A very common coping mechanism is substance abuse – drinking or drugging will initially help block out negative feelings, but when traumatized people repeatedly seek this distraction, or temporary high, it can be extremely dangerous. It can lead them down the path of addiction.

Contrary to popular belief, trauma can occur when we harm others; not just when others harm us. Remembering times at which we behaved in ways that aren’t conducive to our moral systems, can cause shame and regret. This can translate into pain and self-hatred. Adopting this behavior, and dwelling in the past exemplifies addictive behavior. An alcohol or drug addict will drink or abuse drugs when they look back at past traumas and experience the fear of their future. To cope with trauma, alcoholics and addicts need to learn to live in the present.

Healing the hurt in recovery

To recover, addicts need to undergo detox and abstain from drinking and consuming drugs. Once addicts are in a rehabilitation center and abstinent from drugs and alcohol, they are expected to start dealing with their past traumas. As addicts begin this process, they tend to develop defenses in an attempt to protect themselves from feeling the pain of trauma. They may avoid thinking about, which is what led them to using alcohol and drugs to drown out their pain in the first place; or they may try to deny the fact that they suffer from trauma in the first place. Another defense that addicts might use is known as rationalization; they intellectualize their problems and convince themselves that they don’t matter, or that they don’t have to deal with their trauma.

Many children have imaginary friends or build themselves a fantasy world; but some people who suffer trauma, continue doing this in adulthood. This is particularly common in alcohol and drug abusers who have been harmed in their childhood. They may have been neglected, physically or emotionally abused, or sexually violated. This may result in such people thinking they deserve to be harmed. Other addicts, who suffer trauma due to them hurting others, may assume that they deserve to be harmed as a punishment of what they did.

A common indicator of trauma is when alcoholics and addicts act out their pain in order to gain attention. When they are forced to confront their trauma, they space out and go to another place in their minds. If this is not dealt with, addicts and alcoholics are more likely to relapse. As part of the Relapse Prevention Program at Hope Trust, we provide patients with many skills to cope with the inevitable emotional disturbances due to trauma, they will experience even after leaving the rehabilitation center.  


Recovering drug and alcohol addicts will have to keep a journal in which they record their disturbing thoughts. They will keep a to-do list and step-by-step guide of what to do when they feel intense emotional pain because of their trauma. This includes relaxation exercises, asking for help or contacting their counselor. When recovering alcohol and drug addicts feel that trauma is a road block to recovery, they are encouraged to keep a positive attitude and stay calm by breathing deeply and focusing on a positive saying or prayer. Hope Trust equips recovering addicts with the most essential tool for recovery –  the hope that, no matter what, recovery is possible.