Legacy Healing Center The Link Between Trauma and Substance Abuse Alcohol and Drug Rehab Delray Beach

The Link Between Trauma and Substance Abuse

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Why Traumatic Stress Often Leads to Substance Abuse

Traumatic life experiences occur at an alarmingly high rate in the United States, some experts even consider it a public health problem. Exposure to trauma at an early age significantly increases a person’s risk for addiction and other mental and emotional health disorders.

Studies have shown that childhood trauma changes the brain’s neurological functioning, which can cause cognitive delays, PTSD, and substance abuse later in life. The National Survey of Adolescents reported that teens who experienced physical or sexual abuse were three times more likely to abuse substances than those who did not experience trauma.

Statistics on Trauma and Substance Use Disorders

As we know, substance abuse does not discriminate. People from all walks of life have struggled with substance abuse. However, those who have experienced trauma are far more likely to abuse drugs because they may be using them to self-medicate and escape the pain they may be feeling. Some recent statistics on trauma and Substance Use Disorder include:

  • Around 25-75% of people who have been victims of abuse or have had violent, traumatic experiences report excessive alcohol use.
  • Women who are survivors of trauma have an increased risk for alcohol use disorder.
  • Sexual abuse victims have an overall higher rate of alcohol and other substance use disorders.
  • According to a Vietnam Veterans study, 74% of Vietnam Vets with PTSD also had a substance use disorder.
  • 50% of adults with alcohol use disorder and PTSD also had one or more psychological or physical conditions.
  • Rates of witnessing serious injury, death of another person, or being physically assaulted result in two to three times higher substance use rates than those who have not.

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Theories on Why Trauma and Substance Abuse Are Linked

Psychologists have studied the connection between substance abuse and trauma for years. They have found that while trauma increases the risk of struggling with substance abuse, substance abuse also increases the chances of experiencing further traumatic events.   In short, the link between trauma and addiction goes both ways.

Here are a few of their theories:


In an attempt to manage the distressing emotions associated with experiencing trauma, people turn to substances to numb the pain they’re feeling. New research has also shown that traumatic stress or PTSD can make it notably more difficult to stop using due to flashbacks and other reminders of traumatic events.

High-Risk Hypothesis

Substance abuse often lends itself to unsafe situations for the user, and as a result, the person may experience trauma from being in those situations. This situation creates an especially dangerous cycle of substance abuse as a way to escape the trauma they have experienced.

Treating Substance Abuse and Trauma Together

As previously mentioned, trauma changes the makeup of the survivors’ brain, and as a result, changes how they react to situations as well as how they deal with emotions. In images of the brain, people who’ve experienced trauma often have heightened electrical activity in the amygdala, the brain region responsible for emotional reactions, memory, and making decisions. When attempting to treat addiction in someone with significant trauma history, it’s essential to explore past trauma and heal its effects, so the person has the tools they need for a successful long term recovery.

At Legacy Healing Center, we do just that. Our individualized holistic approach to treatment means we’ll be addressing all aspects of your well-being, physical, mental, and emotional. Our multidisciplinary team will work closely with you to develop a personalized treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. We offer all levels of care, ranging from detox and inpatient residential treatment to intensive outpatient day programs and aftercare.

If you or someone you love are struggling with substance use, traumatic stress, or both, call us today. Our addiction specialists are available 24/7 to help you start your journey to recovery. Call 888-534-2295 today.